§ 4.29 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
The House has followed with the keenest attention and with deep personal 53 sympathy the statement of my right hon. Friend the late Foreign Secretary upon the reasons which have led him to the grave decision to resign his office. He has been followed by my Noble Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne) in a statement of the reasons which have caused him to follow the example of my right hon. Friend. To the great majority of hon. Members this decision must have come with a shock of surprise, and I cannot wonder that they have been surprised, because, until only a few days ago, none of his colleagues had anticipated that there was any danger of an event which has been extremely painful to us all. If I may say so, it has been especially painful to myself, because my relations with my right hon. Friend have been those of a friend, as well as of a colleague, and if there have been, from time to time, differences of opinion between us, as there must be between the best of colleagues, they have never been exacerbated by hard words, but have always been discussed between us in the friendliest and most amicable manner.
When, only a little over a week ago, some organs of the Press were declaring that there were serious differences of opinion between my right hon. Friend and myself, I was under the impression that we were in complete agreement, and I must add that, to the rest of the Government, including myself, it did not seem that such differences of opinion as have arisen upon the immediate question at issue were of sufficient importance to make it necessary for my right hon. Friend to leave us. My right hon. Friend took a different view. He has said, and said truly, that each man must be the keeper of his own conscience. I do not for one moment doubt or question the sincerity of his conviction, that the course which he has felt it necessary to take is the one which would best serve the interests of the country.
In order that the House may have before it as complete a picture as possible of the events which have led up to the present situation, I must ask for their indulgence while I endeavour to state once again my own views upon certain aspects of foreign policy—views which have never altered, and which have been shared by all my colleagues. On a former occasion I described that policy as being based upon three principles—first, on the 54 protection of British interests and the lives of British nationals; secondly, on the maintenance of peace, and, as far as we can influence it, the settlement of differences by peaceful means and not by force; and, thirdly, the promotion of friendly relations with other nations who are willing to reciprocate our friendly feelings and who will keep those rules of international conduct without which there can be neither security nor stability.
It is not enough to lay down general principles. If we truly desire peace, it is, in my opinion, necessary to make a sustained effort to ascertain, and if possible remove, the causes which threaten peace and which now, for many months, have kept Europe in a state of tension and anxiety. There is another fact which points in the same direction. We are in this country now engaged upon a gigantic scheme of rearmament which most of us believe to be essential to the maintenance of peace. Other countries are doing the same. Indeed, we were the last of the nations to rearm, but this process of general rearmament has been forced upon us all, because every country is afraid to disarm lest it should fall a victim to some armed neighbour. I recognise the force of that hard fact, but I have never ceased publicly to deplore what seems to me a senseless waste of money, for which everyone will have to pay dearly, if they are not paying for it already. I cannot believe that, with a little good will and determination, it is not possible to remove genuine grievances and to clear away suspicions which may be entirely unfounded.
For these reasons, then, my colleagues; and I have been anxious to find some opportunity of entering upon conversations with the two European countries with which we have been at variance, namely, Germany and Italy, in order that we might find out whether there was any common ground on which we might build up a general scheme of appeasement in Europe. It is not necessary now to enter upon a discussion upon our relations with Germany, because it is not over those that this difference has arisen. I would only observe that the visit of the Lord President of the Council to Germany marked the first attempt to explore the ground, and that we hope, in the light of the information which we then obtained, to pursue that matter further at a convenient opportunity. In the case of 55 Italy there has been what my right hon. Friend has alluded to as the gentlemen's agreement of January, 1937, an agreement which it was hoped was going to be the first step in the clearing up of the situation between ourselves and the Italian Government. Speaking of this agreement in the House of Commons on 19th January, 1937, my right hon. Friend said:A series of statements were made in both countries, one by the Prime Minister"—that was Lord Baldwin—which indicated a desire to improve relations. To do this it was decided to attempt to seek agreement upon a joint declaration. This declaration is neither a treaty nor a pact but it marks, we hope and believe, the end of a chapter of strained relations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January, 1937; col. 104, Vol. 319.]My right hon. Friend went on to tell the House how well this declaration had been received by other countries, who regarded it as likely to be of service towards an appeasement in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, there intervened in Spain the events to which my right hon. Friend has alluded. Nevertheless, there remained good reason for continuing to watch to see whether a suitable opportunity might arise in order to improve relations. Towards the end of July, after a speech which was made by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons on the 19th of that month, the Italian Ambassador, Count Grandi, informed my right hon. Friend that that speech had made an excellent impression in Italy and that the situation seemed to be so much easier that he was encouraged to deliver to me, as Prime Minister, a message which Signor Mussolini had authorised him to make use of when he thought that the moment was propitious.
Accordingly, I arranged for Count Grandi to come to see me on 27th July. The message which he brought me from Signor Mussolini was of a friendly character. I felt that we were presented with an opportunity for improving our relations which ought not to be missed. I decided to take what I considered then, and what I consider now, to be the course which was best calculated to serve the purpose, namely, to put aside ordinary diplomatic formalities and send a personal reply in cordial terms by way of response. Perhaps I may remind the House of the words which I used on this subject in reply to the hon. Baronet the Member 56 for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), who asked whether I could publish in a White Paper the correspondence between Signor Mussolini and myself. My reply was as follows:No, Sir. That correspondence was personal, but I have no, objection to telling the House the purport of it. At the end of July last the Italian Ambassador brought me a message from Signor Mussolini of a friendly character. I took advantage of the opportunity to send Signor Mussolini a personal letter expressing my regret that relations between Great Britain and Italy were still far from that old feeling of mutual confidence and affection which lasted for so many years. I went on to state my belief that those old feelings could be restored if we could clear away certain misunderstandings and unfounded suspicions, and I declared the readiness of His Majesty's Government at any time to enter upon conversations with that object. I was glad to receive from Signor Mussolini, immediately, a reply in which he expressed his own sincere wish to restore good relations between our two countries and his agreement with the suggestion that conversations should be entered upon in order to ensure the desired understanding between the two countries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1937; cols. 914–15, Vol. 328.]This letter was followed up by instructions to our Ambassador in Rome to inform the Italian Government that it was hoped that conversations might begin in September. Unfortunately, certain incidents took place in the Mediterranean which, in our opinion, rendered it impossible that conversations at that time could have any chance of success. Nevertheless, it is well to remember something which my right hon. Friend omitted to mention in his account of past history, namely, that he was successful at Nyon in arriving at an agreement with the Italian Government about the patrolling of the Mediterranean.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson
Is it not a fact that at the conference at Nyon the Italian Government were not represented?
§ The Prime Minister
That is only a minor correction. The hon. Member knows perfectly well that the original agreement which was made between ourselves and the French was joined in by the Italians—with my right hon. Friend's help—who agreed to take their share in the patrolling of the Mediterranean by French, Italian, and British warships, and once more I hoped that this agreement might be followed by further discussions upon the Spanish situation, which in turn would 57 open up the way for those conversations which had been the subject of the correspondence between Signor Mussolini and myself. There once again I was disappointed, and the situation became clouded by the difficulties experienced in the Non-intervention Committee over the withdrawal of volunteers, difficulties which did not arise in one quarter only, and when later Italy gave notice of her intention to leave the League it was difficult to see how the conversations could proceed.
I think it is well to consider how these successive obstacles to conversations affected the situation as between Italy and ourselves. It cannot be denied that during all those months which had lapsed since the original interchange of letters between Signor Mussolini and myself the state of Anglo-Italian relations had seriously and steadily deteriorated. It has always seemed to me that in dealing with foreign countries we do not give ourselves a chance of success unless we try to understand their mentality, which is not always the same as our own, and it really is astonishing to contemplate how the identically same facts are regarded from two different angles. I am informed from many sources that all this time when to us it appeared that the obstacles to conversations had arisen entirely by Italian action, exactly the opposite view was being held in Rome.—[Laughter.]—Hon. Members may laugh at that, and it is very funny, but if we are to make progress in the task of improving our relations with other countries, we must at least understand what their point of view is.
All this time the suspicion was growing in Rome that we did not want conversations at all and that we were engaged in a Machiavellian design to lull the Italians into inactivity while we completed our rearmament, with the intention presently of taking our revenge for the Italian conquest of Abyssinia. I should not be at all surprised if hon. Members opposite had laughed at my description of this suspicion. Not only to hon. Members opposite, but to all of us the idea seems fantastic. It is one which never entered our heads, but when there is an atmosphere of ill will, suspicion breeds suspicion. The result of this suspicion was a series of activities on the Italian side, the movement of troops, the stirring-up of propaganda, and other matters to which 58 my right hon. Friend alluded, but which I need not repeat, because everybody is aware of them. But it is in these circumstances, in a steadily worsening atmosphere overhanging our relations with Italy, that a fresh opportunity arose to break out of this vicious circle. It arose on the 10th of this month.
Following on some amiable conversations between the Italian Ambassador and my right hon. Friend, the Ambassador called at the Foreign Office and stated that these conversations had been sincerely welcomed in Rome and that he had been instructed to report that the Italian Government were ready at any time to open conversations with us. He added that he desired the conversations to be as wide as possible, embracing, of course, the question of the formal recognition of the Abyssinian conquest, but also not excluding Spain. In reply, the Foreign Secretary pointed out that we in this country were bound to act as loyal members of the League, but he added that it seemed to him that the attitude of the League and especially that of the Mediterranean Powers would no doubt be considerably influenced by the fact, if fact it came to be, that we and the Italian Government had come to an agreement which was a real contribution to a general appeasement. My right hon. Friend emphasised that this was a factor which would have great weight with public opinion, not only in this country, but also in France and in the other Mediterranean States and, which is important, in the United States of America also.
In all this my right hon. Friend was not merely expressing his own personal opinion, he was speaking for the Government as a whole, and those views which he expressed to the Italian Ambassador were particularly coincident with the views that I hold myself. I have always taken the view, for instance, that the question of the formal recognition of the Italian position in Abyssinia was one that could only be morally justified if it was found to be a factor, and an essential factor, in a general appeasement. That was the view of all of us, including my right hon. Friend, and it will be seen that the trend of these conversations which I have just reported was definitely favourable to a further discussion, which would include all outstanding questions, including the question of Abyssinia. All 59 outstanding questions, it is important to recognise, did include the question of Abyssinia, and I emphasise this because of the point of view that has been expressed by my Noble Friend.
I am sure the House will not have failed to notice that in his view the issue is one quite different from that which was put forward by my right hon. Friend. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Let me remind the House that my right hon. Friend said quite clearly—I took his words down at the time—that the issue is: Should conversations be opened in Rome now? That is not the point of view of my Noble Friend. He says that this is not a question of detail; this is a question of fundamental principle. He went on to say that that fundamental principle was the principle of international good faith.
§ The Prime Minister
If that is the principle upon which my Noble Friend found it necessary to separate himself from us now, what has happened to alter the position since those conversations which I have described to the House? There was no reason why we should not proceed in due course to discuss with Italy all outstanding questions. A week later our Ambassador in Rome reported a conversation with the Italian Foreign Minister at which the latter had told him he had instructed Count Grandi to urge earnestly that an early start should be made with the conversations. On the same day I suggested to my right hon. Friend that it would be useful if he and I had a talk with Count Grandi. My right hon. Friend in his statement was anxious to put the situation as objectively as he possibly could, but I must ask him to forgive me if I say that at one point he was not quite fair. He represented to the House that the Italian Government had called upon us to enter upon conversations now or never, and that we were being asked to submit to a threat. There is nothing in any of the communications which passed between us and the Italian Government which, in my judgment, would justify that description.
§ Mr. Attlee
As the Prime Minister is alluding to a number of communications and conversations, I take it that we shall have a White Paper to enable us to judge for ourselves?
§ The Prime Minister
I do not think there is anything in what I have alluded to which I should be in the least afraid to publish so that judgment might be exercised upon it. I repeat that in my judgment, and, I am sure I can say, in the judgment of my colleagues, with the exception of my right hon. Friend, nothing that has been said on behalf of the Italian Government would justify anybody in saying that they have used threats. It is, therefore, not fair to the House to suggest that they are being asked to submit to demands from another Government which it would be derogatory to our dignity to submit. I have stated that they informed us of their earnest desire that conversations should start as soon as possible, and it was upon the expression of that desire that the conversation between the Italian Ambassador, the Foreign Secretary and me took place. The Foreign Secretary concurred in my suggestion, but later in the day sent me a note asking me not to commit the Government to anything specific during the conversation. As a matter of fact, I did abstain from anything of the kind.
When the conversation was over the Foreign Secretary and I discussed what were the conclusions that should be drawn from it. It was then, as it seemed to me, that for the first time our differences became acute. This was on Friday. I was convinced that a rebuff to the Italian expression of their desire that conversations should start at once would be taken by them as a confirmation of those suspicions which I have described, suspicions that we had never really been in earnest about the conversations at all. I thought that if that were the effect the result would be disastrous. It would be followed by an intensification of anti-British feeling in Italy, rising to a point at which ultimately war between us might become inevitable. Moreover, I was equally convinced that once the conversations had started we should find good effects of the new atmosphere in many places, and notably in Spain, where the chief difficulty between us had lain for so long.
The Foreign Secretary, on the other hand, was unable to agree to any immediate decision. He wished to say in reply that, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, the moment for the official opening of conversations had not arisen, and that we wished to wait until a substantial withdrawal of volunteers had taken place. 61 In particular, he insisted that we ought to have had some indication from the Italian Government, such as their acceptance of the British formula for the withdrawal of volunteers from Spain, which, he pointed out, had been waiting for Italian acceptance for some considerable time, before we committed ourselves even to conversations. But when I asked him whether, if such an acceptance could be obtained from the Italians, he would then be able to agree to the commencement of the conversations, he made it clear that his objections would still remain. In these circumstances, with the full concurrence and at the desire of the Foreign Secretary, I decided to summon the Cabinet for Saturday afternoon, the next day. I informed Count Grandi that I could not give him our final decision until to-day, but that, in the meantime, it would be helpful if he could obtain from his Government such an assurance as the Foreign Secretary had spoken of.
I need not recite in detail the subsequent events of Saturday and Sunday. I think the House already knows that when the Cabinet had heard the views of my right hon. Friend and myself, their views leaned to my side rather than to his, but it was a very great shock to many of my colleagues that they learned that a final decision in this sense would involve the resignation of my right hon. Friend. Prolonged and persistent efforts were made to induce him to change his decision, but it was all in vain, and in the course of the evening I received from him a letter of resignation which has been published this morning in the Press. That is the end of my account of the differences between my right hon. Friend, on the one hand, and my colleagues and me, on the other, on this particular issue.
There remains a further brief chapter of the history which I must now relate. This morning I received a call from the Italian Ambassador in accordance with the arrangements made when we parted on Friday last. He had been in communication with his Government over the weekend, and he began by informing me that he had received from them a communication, which I think I had better read to the House. It is as follows:The Italian Ambassador informs the Prime Minister that he has submitted to the Italian Government the proposals suggested at their meeting of last Friday, and is glad to convey to him the Italian Government's acceptance 62 of the British formula concerning the withdrawal of foreign volunteers and granting of belligerent rights.I have not the formula with me, but I think the House is familiar with it. It is that when a certain proportion of volunteers on both sides has been withdrawn there should be granted belligerent rights. I think I can say that in handing me this communication the Italian Ambassador intimated that I was to regard it as a gesture on the part of his Government—
§ The Prime Minister
—indicating the spirit of good will and good feeling in which they would wish to begin our conversations. The hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) says: "When they knew that the Foreign Secretary had gone." I asked the Italian Ambassador when he had received this communication, and he informed me that he had received it early on Sunday morning. I then informed the Ambassador, following on the meeting of the Cabinet, that I was happy to say we were ready to begin conversations, and that the Italian Government would be so informed at once. It would, however, be necessary, as a preliminary, as the conversations would take place in Rome, that our Ambassador, who would conduct them on our behalf, would have to return to London to receive his instructions and to make sure that he understood the mind of the Government in the matter. At the same time I told the Ambassador that I wished to impress upon him certain points. First of all I told him that the British Government regarded a settlement of the Spanish question as an essential feature of any agreement at which we might arrive. No agreement could be considered complete unless it contained a settlement of the Spanish question.
Secondly, I repeated that, as he had been already told by my right hon. Friend, we were loyal members of the League, and that if we came to an agreement we should desire to obtain the approval of the League for it. I said it was essential that it should not be possible, if we went to the League to recommend the approval of the agreement, for it to be said that the situation in Spain during the conversations had been materially altered by Italy, either by sending fresh reinforcements to Franco 63 or by failing to implement the arrangements contemplated by the British formula. I added that I did not believe these intimations would occasion his Government a moment's anxiety, since I was confident that his Government would approach the negotiations in the same spirit as we should do, namely, in perfect good faith and with a sincere desire to reach agreement.
Perhaps in that last sentence I have expressed that difference in outlook between my right hon. Friend and myself of which he has told us of his consciousness. I am not here to say that the actions of the Italian Government in the past have been satisfactory to me, but I am concerned with the future, not the past. I believe that if these negotiations are approached in a spirit of mutual confidence there is a good hope that they may be brought to a successful conclusion, but if you are going beforehand to enter upon them in a spirit of suspicion, then none of those conditions that you can think of, the initial withdrawal of troops or anything else that my right hon. Friend suggests, are going to save you. If there is going to be bad faith there will be bad faith, and no assurances beforehand are going to alter it.
I know very well that the decision of the Government is going to be misrepresented; it has been misrepresented already. The right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), who carries his partisanship to what I might call old-fashioned lengths, is already suggesting to his audiences terms of an agreement which has not yet even begun to be discussed. Let me make it plain that there is no question at this moment of what the terms of the agreement are to be. The question is whether we are to enter upon negotiations or to refuse even to contemplate them, and if there be any here who really wish to obtain peace do they think they can ever obtain peace by continuing a vendetta and refusing even to talk about their differences? I have never been more completely convinced of the rightness of any course that I have had to take than I am to-day of the rightness of the decision to which the Cabinet came yesterday. What we are seeking to do is to get a general appeasement throughout Europe which will give us peace.
64 The peace of Europe must depend upon the attitude of the four major Powers—Germany, Italy, France and ourselves. For ourselves, we are linked to France by common ideals of democracy, of liberty and Parliamentary government. France need not fear that the resignation of my right hon. Friend upon this issue signifies any departure from the policy of the closest friendship with France of which he has been such a distinguished exponent. I count myself as firm a friend of France as my right hon. Friend. The difference between him and me will never mean that there is any difference between us about our relations with France. On the other side we find Italy and Germany linked by affinities of outlook and in the forms of their government. The question that we have to think of is this: Are we to allow these two pairs of nations to go on glowering at one another across the frontier, allowing the feeling between the two sides to become more and more embittered, until at last the barriers are broken down and the conflict begins which many think would mark the end of civilisation? Or can we bring them to an understanding of one another's aims and objects, and to such discussion as may lead to a final settlement? If we can do that, if we can bring these four nations into friendly discussion, into a settling of their differences, we shall have saved the peace of Europe for a generation. My right hon. Friend and I have differed not upon these general aims, which we share with equal earnestness and conviction, but in my judgment—and I hope that the House will agree with me and my colleagues in this—the response made this morning, the desire which was expressed by the Italian Government for a frank discussion, constitute an important step towards the accomplishment of our purpose.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
I am quite sure that I can speak for everyone on this side when I say that we have heard the statement of the late Foreign Secretary and the late Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs with profound sympathy. This House is always generous to its Members when they are making personal statements. It is only two years ago since we had a personal statement by another Foreign Secretary. My sympathy with the late Foreign Secretary is all the 65 stronger because his speech was followed by the present Prime Minister, while the present Home Secretary was followed by Lord Baldwin of Bewdley. We shall require full information as to these transactions, because I gathered from the Prime Minister's speech that we have not had one Foreign Office operating, but two Foreign Offices. From what I heard of the Prime Minister's speech my sympathy is with the Foreign Secretary, whose efforts were interfered with by what seemed to be extremely amateur methods. We should have had even keener sympathy with the late Foreign Secretary and his colleague if they had resigned at the time of the Hoare-Laval agreement? In the speeches which they made to this House they have, I think, taken the line that the representative of a British Government should take in foreign affairs. They have taken the line of courage and the line based on principle.
The Prime Minister laid down three principles which he observed in foreign affairs, and then proceeded to show that in practice he disregarded them all. On the occasion of the resignation of the present Home Secretary the public opinion of this country expressed itself in no uncertain terms. The country was loud in condemnation of the present Home Secretary, and he was sacrificed in order to prove to the country that the rest of his colleagues were true to their election pledges. I was sorry for the right hon. Gentleman at the time. I did not think that he stood alone. No one of his colleagues resigned with him. He was sacrificed after a recent General Election when it was necessary to show that the Government were true to their pledges, and the right hon. Gentleman was thrown to the wolves. I remember the discussion then. The Prime Minister of that day said that he could not understand, in making the Hoare-Laval agreement, that they were departing from their election pledges. The present Prime Minister seemed to be quite unaware that the whole of his speech was a departure from his election pledges, and quite unable to understand the difference between himself and the late Foreign Secretary; but to everybody else it stood out a mile that the late Foreign Secretary was standing for principles, certain definite principles in the government of the world, and that the Prime Minister was rejecting them all. I believe that the public opinion of this country will be 66 equally emphatic in condemnation of the present Government.
The Foreign Secretary has been thrown to the wolves but he has an Under-Secretary who stood by him. I must say that I am surprised that no one else was found in the Cabinet to stand by him. He was the only one who was conscious of the election policy of the National Government on which they won a majority. He showed by his speech that that was the difference. He was willing, as we all are, to enter into conversations with other countries, but he was quite definite that there must be a public law in Europe, there must be some definite observance; for, after all, that was the basis on which the Government went to the country. The Prime Minister disregards that entirely. Before I turn to the main issue which is raised here I would like to say one thing. We shall be told in due course who is to replace the Foreign Secretary. [An HON. MEMBER: "Mussolini will tell him."] However that may be, whoever replaces the Foreign Secretary must be a Member of this House. The issues in foreign policy are too great, and the divisions increasing year by year in the country on the subject of foreign policy are too great, as this Government goes on, for the House to have to get its replies from an Under-Secretary who cannot add anything to what he has upon a written brief.
The Foreign Secretary has resigned just at a time when two foreign Powers, Germany and Italy, have been covering him with every kind of abuse, and with demands for his resignation. The Prime Minister said that there would be misrepresentation, but his new friend Signor Mussolini is quite ahead of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison). This is being proclaimed as "Another great victory for the Duce." What is being said is that it was not possible to get good relations between this country and Italy until the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) withdrew. It will not be the Opposition who will be misrepresenting the Prime Minister, but it will be his new friend. All over the world will go the story: "You see how great is the power of our great leader. He says that the Foreign Secretary must go, and he has gone."
I do not think there is any parallel for that in our history. I do not know of 67 any case where a Foreign Secretary, acting professedly with the support of the Cabinet, has been subjected to most outrageous abuse by foreign countries. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not quite realise that we have not such power over the Prime Minister as has a foreign dictator. [Interruption.] It looks rather curious to us that just when a colleague is being attacked by people overseas, by foreign countries, when, week after week, he is abused in every possible way, his colleagues do not stand by him. Are we to have a Foreign Secretary dictated to us? The last occasion when anything of this kind happened was in 1905, when the German Government dictated the dismissal of M. Delcassé. This is a humiliating surrender. The late Foreign Secretary had, I believe, striven under great difficulties to try to get some kind of performance for the promises made at the last election. He has had indifferent success, but the fact that he has stood alone, except for his Under-Secretary, has shown very plainly that during these years he has been used as a cloak. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Oh yes, all over the country people have been told to be quite sure of the Government because the Foreign Secretary was such a good peace man and League of Nations man. All the time, there have been people working against him.
This is a "Daily Mail" change. The "Daily Mail" is always wrong. This will be regarded as a great victory. It is clear that ever since the Prime Minister became Prime Minister there has been an increasing divergence between him and the Foreign Secretary. As the Foreign Secretary has said, he wasincreasingly conscious … of a difference of outlook … in respect of the international problems of the day and also as to the methods by which we should seek to resolve them.I thought that was very obvious when the Prime Minister was speaking. It started early, with the Prime Minister's letter to Signor Mussolini. The Prime Minister has been all the time working and trying to get some kind of alliance with Signor Mussolini at any price and heedless of any principle. That explains the long endurance by this country of insults which would never have been stood by any other Government but the National Government.
68 Let us look at the position to-day. Signor Mussolini's position is extremely weak. Talk about Abyssinia; Abyssinia is less conquered to-day than it was a year ago. Italy holds little more than half of that country and then mainly with people behind barbed wire. More than half of the country is in revolt; he is short of oil and he is short of meat. The Spanish war is not proving the success he thought, but a long drain on his resources and not near final success. There are growing difficulties at home. The debts are not paid. He is a bankrupt dictator living on tick. There is rising discontent, as the recent trials have plainly shown. The Berlin axis is very uneasy. That is Mussolini's position. Hitler jumps in in Austria. We have not yet been told—perhaps we shall hear—whether that was in the agreement as part of the Berlin axis, or whether Hitler jumped the claim by reason of his own internal position or by reason of Signor Mussolini being too weak to object. At any time we may find German armies on the Brenner.
Just at this time, the Prime Minister goes whining to him for an agreement on Anglo-Italian relations. Signor Mussolini has been insulting the Prime Minister's colleagues for months and months, is fomenting discontent all through the Near East, including Palestine and Egypt and everywhere else, is carrying on an abusive campaign against this country, and his friends, with weapons which he supplies, attack our ships and kill our sailors. This is the moment chosen by the Prime Minister to go cap in hand to Mussolini and say: "Will you please give me an agreement? Everything is to be forgiven and everything is to be forgotten. There are no conditions." I was amazed at the statement made by the Prime Minister this afternoon. Apparently anything is good enough for him. He comes down in triumph to-day and says: "I have got a promise that Italy will move her troops out of Spain." We have become fat on promises during the last 18 months. In regard to Spain, we have had ordinary agreements and gentlemen's agreements. I do not know quite what the difference is, but neither sort is kept. Then the Prime Minister gets up with a touching peroration. "I believe" he says. He has faith, but the Foreign Secretary wanted works; that is the difference between them.
69 What sign has there been in any of those promises? Not a single sign of anything by Signor Mussolini. What has the right hon. Gentleman got by all this? I want to know. If there is to be a bargain, what are to be the terms of the bargain? Perhaps he can tell us. Are we to recognise Abyssinia and give Signor Mussolini a free hand there? It sounded rather like it. Is there to be a free hand in Spain? Perhaps it is not necessary to give a free hand. If they have non-intervention for long enough there will be no need to give the Italians a free hand. Are we to depend upon the piecrust promises of the dictator? Perhaps the Prime Minister will tell us whether part of the bargain is the discussion of financial aid. Are we to prop the dictator on his throne?
One of the prime mistakes of this Government is that they are always making up to the rulers of countries. Those rulers go back to their people and say: "We are all right. Look how much Britain thinks of us." All the world over one hears that said. What are we to get in return? We have not had a word about that. We are going somehow to smooth out the situation. What is Signor Mussolini going to give us? Is he going to stop his propaganda? All that we have so far is Signor Mussolini's word. Is it really enough? Surely the right hon. Gentleman will tell us, if an agreement with Signor Mussolini is important enough to throw over a Foreign Secretary, what he hopes to get out of it. Is it going to be a potential makeweight against Herr Hitler, a kind of renewal of the Stresa front? Is it hoped to break the Berlin-Eome axis? Lord Halifax said in another place that there was nothing further from the thought of the Government than to break that axis. But there is another axis which may be gravely affected by this policy. It is significant that the right hon. Gentleman did not say a word about the question of our relations with France.
§ Mr. Attlee
He said that we were very good friends. But he never told us whether the French Government were consulted as to whether they agreed or what had been the reception of these events in France as compared with the reception with which they met in other countries. What does this mean? It means in effect some kind of agreement with Signor Mussolini under which he is going to be the master of the Mediterranean. 70 It is quite obvious all through these events that the Government have been hoping that General Franco will win. That would be an extremely dangerous position for this country and an extremely dangerous position for France. Herr Hitler makes no bones about what he wants to see in Spain. He wants to see a strong Nationalist Government in Spain, a strong Fascist Government on the borders of France. As far as I can gather the right hon. Gentleman wants to see the same thing.
That is a very dangerous position for France, for the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman adumbrate a complete surrender to the demands of Signor Mussolini. This is sheer strategic madness from the point of view of the defence of this country. I think the policy he is pursuing is nonsense even from the narrow point of view of the Imperialistic interests of this country, but it really means the destruction in the end of the League of Nations. It means the definite recognition of aggression. And the right hon. Gentleman chooses exactly the time when Italy has left the League to make a special effort to be friends with her. This is the Government that got a majority on the ground that it was out to support the League of Nations, the Government which issued a statement saying that this great Nationalist Government was to be the strongest pillar of the Covenant and would express the will of the signatories of the Peace Ballot.
This is going to have very grievous repercussions in Europe. As I have told the right hon. Gentleman before, it will be hailed everywhere as a great victory for Signor Mussolini; it is being hailed by him as such already; the Press is full of it; and throughout Europe people who have been waiting to see which way the cat was going to jump will be saying that it is another great victory for Signor Mussolini. That is what is bound to happen. If someone insults you, attacks you, kills your nationals, goes against you in every possible way and you go and make friends with him, they will say what a great man he must be. The repercussions throughout the countries of Europe are going to be very severe. The peoples of countries that would like to stand in with the democratic countries will feel that all their hopes have been dashed to the ground.
71 This is an abject surrender to the dictators by the greatest Power in the world. Has the Prime Minister thought out what it is going to mean in the Near East, in Palestine, in Arabia, in all the places where British prestige is so important? They have heard the demands made that the Foreign Secretary must go, then when the Foreign Secretary does go they will say what a great man Signor Mussolini is. It is going to have very serious effects in the United States of America. The United States have not joined the League of Nations, but moral ideas have great force in that country, and the fact that we are going to recognise aggression, the fact that we are seeking specially to make friends with the nation that has been responsible for gross outrages, will cause the United States to say, "Here is old John Bull playing power politics again."
I believe there will be grave repercussions also in the British Colonies and in the Dominions, and there will be still deeper repercussions in this country. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman realises what is in the minds of thousands of people in this country who have supported him and hoped against hope that something like a decent peace policy might result from this Government, largely because the Foreign Secretary was there. Last week there was a by-election at Ipswich in which a Government majority of 7,000 was turned into a Labour majority of 3,000. It would have been a Labour majority of 10,000 if these events had happened earlier. Let us see on what grounds the Government candidate asked the electors to support him. He said:We have in Mr. Eden a Foreign Secretary who knows at first hand what war means and is a whole-hearted supporter of the League of Nations. I support without qualification his declaration of foreign policy, 'We will embark on no action contrary to the text or the spirit of the Covenant. We believe in the principle of the settlement of disputes by peaceful means, and we shall do our utmost to secure a general acceptance and observance of the principle.'The trouble is that the Prime Minister's belief is one thing and his works are another. He believes it and the Home Secretary believes it, but they want to do a deal with the aggressor. That is exactly what the late Foreign Secretary was saying, and it is exactly where the Prime Minister left him and the rest of his colleagues left him. 72We offer co-operation to all, but we will accept dictation from none.But they do accept dictation. Anything more like a surrender to dictatorship than the line which the Prime Minister took to-day I have never heard. Apparently he must come to terms with Signor Mussolini and he must not mention any prerequisites on his side. What we have heard is an entirely negation of the policy for which the Government professed to stand. We know that that policy was only adopted in order to win an election and that what we have now is not a constructive peace policy but a kind of futile playing at power politics. In these last few years the Government instead of trying to deal with the causes of war have always been trying in a feeble way to play off one dictator against another. That is a policy which sooner or later leads to war.
I say that this Government is betraying the cause of peace and the security of this country. It is perfectly ridiculous, after our experience during the last 18 months of dealing with Signor Mussolini, for the Prime Minister to come here and say that everything is going to be wonderful because he has got a promise from Signor Mussolini that at some time or other he will come to an agreement which at some time or other he may carry out. The Foreign Secretary was perfectly correct in his statement that there has been one long series of retreats. It has led to war, it has led to a disturbance of the world and a constant breach of treaty obligations. There is a grievous need for a new start in building up peace and in removing the causes of war, but you will not get it by merely making the Concert of Europe into a thieves' kitchen.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
The resignation of a Minister of the Government, and more particularly if he happens to be the most popular Minister in that Government, is a very natural and, generally, a very legitimate occasion for exultant rejoicing among the opponents of the Government; but, while the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and of the Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne) excites strong sympathy, and while their speeches to-day were powerful and moving, and there has naturally, therefore, been a great deal of feeling expressed on the Opposition 73 benches, and, indeed in all parts of the House, there will, I think, be no rejoicing in any part of the House at the events which took place over the week-end. We all know that the times are too serious. Not only are our national and Imperial interests threatened in the Mediterranean and the Far East, but I profoundly believe that civilisation, and the rule of law by which alone it can be maintained, are now threatened by a new eruption of barbarism and force.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, to whose speech the whole House has listened this afternoon with respectful admiration, is regarded by men and women of all schools of thought in this country as the champion of democracy, law and peace against the dangers by which they are threatened. Not only in this House, but also in the country, I have constantly expressed my conviction of his sincerity and idealism, and his powers of practical statesmanship have been clearly revealed in the Rhineland crisis and on many other great occasions. Our belief has been that he was being hampered by the refusal of his colleagues either to give convinced and unstinted support to his foreign policy or to make the adjustments in economic and Imperial policy which it required. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) expressed those feelings in one of his flashing metaphors when he described the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, when Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, as beinglike a skilful and intelligent chauffeur, with the passengers behind him always pulling nervously at his elbow.Now we know that our misgivings were justified; that, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman himself, there has been "a difference of outlook" between himself and the Prime Ministerin respect to the international problems of the day and also as to the method by which we should seek to resolve them.We know, in his own words again, that the "partnership" has been "uneasy," and at last the passengers have seized the wheel from the chauffeur. At least, this will clarify the issue for debates in this House and for public discussion from one end of the country to the other. The British people, in the long run, will be able to make their influence felt more effectively and directly on the conduct of foreign affairs.
74 Why, then, should we not rejoice? Because time is short; because events are overtaking our discussions; because a wrong turn given to our foreign policy now may prove fatal; because the right hon. Gentleman's resignation will rejoice the enemies of Britain and discourage her friends—the dictators will exult, and the free peoples of Europe will hear of it with foreboding and dread. The secret instructions of Signor Mussolini to his Press were published some months ago. "Get rid of Eden," was one of them. He to whom the Duce gives the credit for this achievement must be a proud man to-day.
The Prime Minister was anxious to make out that the resignation was on small issues, which were not of sufficient importance to justify the course which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington has taken. His contention had been refuted in advance by the cogent and eloquent speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington had delivered; but, even if that speech had not been made, the right hon. Gentleman's courage and resolution and tireless energy have, time and again, been proved in action. He is not the kind of man to resign easily from a Government composed of his lifelong political friends and associates. No one who knows him and admires him can have failed to observe that one of the outstanding traits of his character is loyalty. No quality is more precious in public life, and no situation can be more painful to a public man than when strong personal loyalties conflict with his loyalty to great principles of public policy. The greatest man who ever held the portfolio which the right hon. Gentleman has just relinquished once wrote thatTo the public good, private respects must yield;but the House will not readily believe that it was on any small or narrow conception of the public good that the right hon. Gentleman took a step which must have been so painful to his personal feelings.
The truth is that the policy of the Fascist and totalitarian States is developing along lines which are becoming increasingly aggressive and menacing, both to British interests and to freedom and democracy and is clearly threatening the greatest of all British interests and the essential condition of freedom, which is 75 peace. In January of last year Herr Hitler declared "with the achievement of equality, the time of so-called surprises is at an end." Yet, last week-end he summoned to Berchtesgaden the Austrian Chancellor, and compelled him to make changes in his Cabinet under threat of military force. By refusing to support Herr Schuschnigg, Signor Mussolini showed Austria and the countries of central and Eastern Europe that they had nothing to hope for from him, but by the same token he also showed us that he intended to concentrate on Africa and the Mediterranean, where an imperialist policy can only be pursued at the expense of British interests and of the cause of democracy and international order in Spain and Abyssinia. These ambitions he is pursuing in spite of his undertakings in the "gentlemen's agreement" in January of last year. The Prime Minister comes before us to-day, and says that we must have confidence in the good faith of the Italian Government; but were not the right hon. Gentleman and the Noble Lord amply justified in arguing that confidence can only be based on good faith, and good faith expressed, not in fresh promises but in the performance of those promises which have been already given? That good faith, based on performance, can alone be the foundation of confidence in any fresh negotiations.
The Prime Minister dwelt on the difference of outlook in the public opinion in Rome and in this country. He said, "We complain of the failure of the Italians to do this, that or the other; but, if we would only put ourselves in the other fellow's place, we should understand that the Italians, for their part, are nourishing all kinds of suspicions about Britain." I do not think the Prime Minister quite realises that our complaint is different. We complain of the non-performance of obligations into which the Italians have freely entered. The Prime Minister has not suggested that the Italian Government has any corresponding complaint to make against the British Government. Therefore, the two complaints are not on the same moral footing. The worst that the Prime Minister can suggest is unfounded suspicion in Rome as to our future intentions, based on the deliberate propaganda of a muzzled Press controlled by the Italian Government. If the Italian people had a free Press, or were able to 76 read the British or other foreign Press, they would know that these suspicions were unfounded—unless, indeed, they might be revived by a phrase the Prime Minister himself used at the end of his speech. He said:We must not continue a vendetta.A vendetta with whom? The Prime Minister used the word "continue." Does he mean that his Government has been carrying on a vendetta with the Italian Government? Does he suggest that there was a vendetta between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington and Signor Mussolini? Does he suggest that the man who was his own Foreign Secretary until yesterday has been carrying on a vendetta with the Head of the Italian Government? I think he should explain his language. What indeed does the word "vendetta" mean? It is a foreign word: not an English word. The use of such words some times makes me wish we had with us, to expound the policy of the Government, such a master of the English language as the present Lord Baldwin, who spoke such homely English. Is this word "vendetta" the polite word for the Government's new conception of our efforts to fulfil our obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations? Is it the description the Government now applies to efforts to vindicate the Covenant against Italian aggression?
Then the Prime Minister told us, with great satisfaction, that he had managed to secure from Count Grandi an assurance that the Italian Government accepted the Government's formula for the evacuation of foreign combatants in Spain, on the one the hand, coupled with the grant of belligerent rights for Franco; on the other hand, I have not been able to look up the exact facts of which the Prime Minister spoke, but I venture to say that that formula, in those general terms, has already been accepted by the Italian representative on the Non-intervention Committee, and has, in fact, been sent to the Governments represented on the Non-intervention Committee with the blessing in principle of the Italian representative on that Committee. But what we want to know, and what I hope we shall be told during the Debate, is, what meaning is attached to that formula? The formula says that there must be substantial withdrawal of volunteers before 77 belligerent rights are granted to General Franco. I ask whoever is to reply to the Debate to tell us what the Government understand by, "substantial withdrawal." Is it 70 per cent., or is it 80 per cent.? And what do they mean by "the withdrawal of the foreign combatants?" Is it qualitative, as well as quantitative, withdrawal? Is there to be withdrawal of similar numbers of generals on both sides and of airmen on both sides, or is it only to be in the humbler ranks of the infantry on both sides? And what is meant by "belligerent rights?" Is there acceptance of the limited definition of "belligerent rights" which was contained in the Government's plan of last July?
And has the Italian Government given any undertaking to stop the anti-British propaganda in the Near East? For that, we were assured by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, was in the opinion of the Government a condition precedent to negotiations with the Italian Government. Nobody got up from the Government Front Bench to contradict him. The Prime Minister has told us that there was no difference of opinion until Friday last. Therefore, the Prime Minister stands committed by the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, that there would be no negotiations with Italy until anti-British propaganda in the Near East has been stopped. Then, the Prime Minister attempted to deal with the right hon. Gentleman's statement that we were being asked to negotiate under a threat. I think that that is an assertion which made a great impression on the House. The Prime Minister has attempted to remove it. We must demand the Papers, so that we may know what those words and phrases are which the right hon. Gentleman construes as a threat, but to which the Prime Minister attaches a different meaning. The House of Commons has to be informed and to make its own judgment as to which interpretation of the right hon. Gentleman is correct.
Surprisingly the Prime Minister tried to make out that there was some similarity between his method of negotiating with the Italians and that which was employed in order to obtain the Nyon Agreement. The Nyon Agreement was a clear illustration of the difference between what I may perhaps be allowed to call the Eden method and the Prime Minister's method. 78 Actually, the French and the British Governments came together, and they came to certain clear decisions, and when they had come to these decisions, the Italian Government associated itself with them. It is rather remarkable that the Prime Minister, now that he is taking such a dominating part in that part of our foreign affairs, has not familiarised himself with the details of these negotiations and has not understood the great difference of principle there is in the method of the late Foreign Secretary and in that which he is now adopting.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he had communicated to the Italian Ambassador a statement of his opinion that formal recognition of the Italian conquest of Abyssinia could only be justified morally if it was part of a peaceful agreement. I would add that it can be justified only, if it is done, by discussion through the League of Nations, and if the League of Nations is satisfied that the interests of the natives of Abyssinia themselves are safeguarded in the agreement which may be ratified. Surely, it would not be morally justifiable for the Western Powers to come to an agreement at the expense of the people of Abyssinia.
Then the right hon. Gentleman said that the message which he had received from the Italian Ambassador was a clear proof of the Italian Government's good will and that he had received this communication from the Italian Ambassador to-day; and when that excited some hilarity on these benches, he was at pains to inform us that he had satisfied himself that this communication from the Italian Government had reached the Italian Ambassador on Sunday morning. Surely, the simplest and most ingenuous Member of this House is well aware of the very simple diplomatic method whereby instructions are sent to an Ambassador which are only to be carried out in the event of certain events taking place. I think that it is very clear that, once the Prime Minister had been able to present the head of the late Foreign Secretary on the official charger, he received this message, which, I must say, seems to me to be a very meagre reward.
We are now choosing—and it is a very vital choice that we have to make—between two broad lines of policy. On the one hand, we may buy a few years of peace at the cost of the people of Spain 79 and of Abyssinia, and at the cost of abandoning the effort to organise security on the basis of equal justice for all nations and of surrendering strategic positions, or of enabling the Italian Government to establish strategic positions, which would be of vital importance in war and would greatly strengthen its diplomacy in peace; or, on the other hand, we can organise a defensive system which would be able to resist aggression and thus avert war, provided, at the same time, we make it clear that we are willing to contribute to the satisfaction of genuine national grievances of other countries on the basis of disarmament and third-party judgment.
This last is the only possible peace policy—the only policy which preserves the foundations of international law and order upon which alone peace can be secured, not for ourselves only, but for our children and our children's children. It is the only policy to which we can rally the small countries of Europe, now frightened as much by the vacillation and irresolution of the great democracies as by the growing power and ruthlessness of the dictators. The other policy, which was described by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington when he spoke at Birmingham 10 days ago, is the policy of sacrificing principles and shirking responsibilities merely to obtain quick results which cannot be permanent, and I understand that the Prime Minister agreed with that speech because that was before last Friday. That policy was the abandonment of the League of Nations and the return to secret diplomacy and power politics, and, in the inevitable outcome, the surrender of freedom to dictatorship and of Britain to Italian, German and Japanese demands, would be the only alternative to war.
In every crisis in recent years we have retreated before the bluff and the threats of the dictators. None of these retreats has brought us peace. The one occasion when the ruthlessness of the dictatorship Powers was temporarily checked, was when we stood up to them in the Nyon Conference. It is because the Foreign Secretary's resignation is a grave weakening of Britain and of the cause of freedom in this hour of danger, that I feel no rejoicing at the events which have taken place, but I do hope that we shall 80 be able to win good out of evil and be able to agree, if possible, among ourselves—so serious and critical is the situation—upon a policy—the policy which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington has been accustomed to expound in this House, but which he never had the freedom from his colleagues to carry out effectively. In that way we may secure for ourselves and our children the inestimable blessings of peace.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Amery
All who have spoken today realise that we are dealing not with some minor point of difference, but with fundamental issues of national policy. It is inconceivable that the Foreign Secretary should have left his colleagues on the mere question of the date at which negotiations should begin. It is equally inconceivable that he should have regarded it as an essential condition, not of an agreement, but of the mere opening of conversations, that the other side must fulfil certain stipulations and must by its good behaviour for so many weeks or months prove that it is a reliable Government. You cannot negotiate with foreign countries upon that basis. We have undoubtedly had good reasons to complain of the conduct of Italy in recent months. But, after all, Italy is not the only country that has broken pledges to this country in recent years. We have had a case in the past against other countries, Germany, for instance, or Russia, in similar circumstances.
The issues go far deeper and, I venture to say, also further back. Nothing struck me more in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden)—a speech full of sincerity and high purpose—than the fact that he seemed to be only aware of our grievances against Italy, and to be entirely unconscious of the fact that from the Italian point of view, be it right or wrong, Italy has its catalogue of grievances against us. After all, from the point of view of the Italian people, and not of its ruler only, our intervention in the Abyssinian business was entirely unforeseen, entirely incomprehensible to their mentality and, from their point of view, unwarranted and even treacherous. They know that for 10 years before 1935, after our rejection of the Geneva Protocol, we had substituted, for a policy of sanctions, 81 the limited policy of the Locarno obligations, and Italian-Abyssinian relations were entirely outside that sphere. At the Stresa discussion there was nothing to lead them even to suspect that we were going to put a spoke in their wheel.
From that policy of sanctions, a novel policy, has flowed, as I ventured to predict in this House more than two years ago, an inescapable series of disastrous consequences. It was a policy, which by the very structure and temperament of the League of Nations, could never have been successfully carried out unless we were prepared to lead the League into war, which we were not prepared to do. The occupation of the Rhineland, the Spanish trouble, the Rome-Berlin axis and the bludgeoning of Austria, these things have followed in a natural and inevitable sequence from that action of ours. Whether Italy was right or wrong, she felt that at a moment when her very existence was at stake, we were prepared to wreck all her plans and, indeed, to destroy her armies and upset her form of Government. In these circumstances, is it not right that, if we are to negotiate, we should approach the matter with an open mind and let bygones be bygones?
The trouble is—and I say it with all respect and sincerity—for my right hon. Friend the late Foreign Secretary bygones have not altogether been bygones. Even to-day the policy of League coercion which led us to disaster and humiliation over Abyssinia is still, in his mind, the right policy. When did any definite forward move come from him to show to Italy that we had abandoned that policy ex animo, and that we were willing to let it be a matter of the past? On the contrary, ever since our failure over Abyssinia we have been drifting and allowing events to drift into this position, that against the League—a League still based upon the theory of collective coercion—we have been building up an anti-Geneva League of the Powers outside. A policy of treating these Powers as outcasts and regarding them as irrevocably committed to a policy of hostility can only lead to one result—and we have got perilously near that result already—a definite crystallisation into two hostile leagues, ourselves, Russia and France on the one side, Germany, Italy and Japan on the other, with such minor followers as each side may have.
82 Looking to the future, what is that condition of affairs going to lead to? Is it going to be a good thing for the cause; of peace? It means not only a steady growth of armaments, but an ever-increasing growth of suspicion, accompanied by charges of mutual ill-faith, of which we have heard something to-day, leading up to a universal war, a war-started by the theory of indivisible peace: a world civil war. That, from the point of view of world peace, would be the most disastrous end to the great and well-intentioned but mishandled experiment of the League of Nations that one could conceive. What about British peace and British interests? I can imagine no international combination, no international conflict more deadly to the British Empire than one in which we should be in danger simultaneously in the Atlantic; the Mediterranean and the Far East. I need not pursue that matter further. It is a peril which we are not prepared to meet, even if we doubled our naval strength. It is something which, in the interests of every part of the British Empire, we ought to strive to avoid if we possbily can. If it is too late to escape it and we have to face it, then we must get our Allies around us and do what we can. But let us get out of the rut if we can.
I would ask a third question. Is that combination, that conflict, in the interests of Italy? We may think what we like of Signor Mussolini and his policy. But there is one assumption that we can reasonably make, and that is that he is thinking of the interests of Italy first, last and all the time. That conception of his may be governed by personal temperament, perhaps even by what are called ideological considerations, but in the long run what will govern his outlook on foreign affairs are the ineluctable facts of geography and economics. In a struggle of this sort we might suffer grievously. But when we consider the position of Italy, with her new Empire overseas, her immense coast line, her vulnerable land frontiers, her limited economic resources, is it really likely that Signor Mussolini would wish light-heartedly to commit his country to such hideous peril to its very existence? If there is a reasonable way of escaping this cleavage, surely it is to his interest to welcome that opportunity and to make a success of it.
83 That Signor Mussolini should wish to be on good terms with Germany is not unnatural, and the last thing we wish to do is to interrupt in any way the good relations that exist between those two countries. But is that any reason why Italy should not be on good terms with us, just as Italy was on the best terms with us throughout the years when the Triple Alliance held good as a factor in European politics? Each of us has most to lose by war. We have one supreme interest in common in preserving peace between ourselves, and that is the common user of the Mediterranean as a vital artery of communication for each of us. There is more than that. If this country and Italy can come to a reasonable understanding together, is it beyond hope that they may also form a bridge for a better understanding between France and Germany? I remember in my youth being told that the security of Northern Italy was maintained by a great quadrilateral of fortresses on the Lombard plain. Is it beyond hope that a new quadrilateral based on the co-operation and good will of the four great Powers of Europe might do something to preserve the peace of Europe and pave the way to that ultimate building of an European Commonwealth, the restoration of that western Christendom, which once had a far greater unity than we sometimes think to-day? Is not that a goal worth making some effort and some sacrifice to achieve? Such a reconciliation would at least bring to one country a ray of hope which is lacking to-day. I refer to Austria.
If this is the right policy, is it not wise and honest that we should make it clear to the world as soon as possible? This is the eleventh hour. We have got so deep into the rut that only a tremendous effort can extricate us. I think we ought never to have fallen into the rut, but let us leave that point alone. We have drifted ever since the spring of 1936, when the fate of Abyssinia was decided, without making our peace with Italy or making any real effort to retrieve the situation. As a spectator from outside I say that it redounds greatly to the Prime Minister's credit that as soon as he came to office he determined to end the senseless quarrel between this country and Italy, and to extricate us from the rut into which we were getting more and more deeply involved. He was unwilling 84 to commit what the late Lord Salisbury once described as "the commonest error in politics, namely, sticking to the carcass of dead policies."
If there is a criticism to be made of the Prime Minister's conduct it would rather be that he should have insisted earlier and more determinedly on bringing this matter to a head. If he could have forced last autumn the issue which he has forced to-day, it might well have been that we should not have seen Austria bludgeoned as she has been during the last few days. There may, I admit, be some force in the argument that has been used that with the growth of our strength in armaments, with the increasing consciousness that Signor Mussolini must have of his difficulties in Spain, in Abyssinia and in the realm of finance, the situation may in certain respects be riper for agreement than it was a few months ago. Those arguments are, in my opinion, no ground for further procrastination in a situation fraught with infinite peril to the whole world. They do encourage me to entertain a reasonable hope that the policy which the Prime Minister has now inaugurated has come in time to save the world from catastrophe.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
I am sure that hon. Members on this side of the House will have no wish to quarrel with the speech of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), in so far as he advocated the cessation of hostilities on the part of Italy against this country. But many of us will object to the expression he used when he talked about the "senseless quarrel" between the two countries. That statement is not in accordance with the facts. As far as I know, apart from the attempt of this country to carry out its obligations under Article 16 of the Covenant, no overt action against Italy has taken place on the part of the British Government, but that is not the case with the Italian Government. We know that up till 1935 relations between the two countries were more or less normal. In 1935 the League Council decided to impose sanctions against the Italian Government, following its invasion of Abyssinia, and from that day, which more or less coincides with the advent of the late Foreign Secretary to office, Italy has conducted a poisonous stream of propaganda against this country.
85 Not only that, but we have it on the authority of the late Foreign Secretary that the British Government know of no reason why the Italian Government should have increased the number of their troops in Libya from approximately 20,000 to approximately 80,000 or 90,000. That increase followed the participation of the British Government in sanctions against Italy. There was also the action of the Italian Government in despatching 80,000 to 100,000 Italian troops to Spain, again in breach of the Covenant of the League and of the obligations which the Italian Government freely undertook when they signed the Covenant. Therefore, we are entitled to object to the phrase "senseless quarrels" between the two countries used by the right hon. Gentleman.
The present unfortunate situation can only be attributed to the resentment which, rightly or wrongly, has been felt by Fascist Italy against this country, following the participation of the British Government in the policy of sanctions at Geneva. That resentment has had as its focal point the person of the British Foreign Secretary. There have been many occasions on which I have differed and my hon. Friends on these benches have differed from the policy of the late Foreign Secretary, but I believe that the hostility that has found expression in Italy against him is merely because he has personified the policy of this country, which policy is an attempt, partially, at any rate, to carry out our obligations under the Covenant of the League. Only a few days ago, on the 12th February we read a statement from one of the leading Italian newspapers, the "Regime Fascista," written by Signor Farinacci, the ex-Secretary General for the Fascist party, who is, I believe, in close association with Signor Mussolini. In that article, according to the "Times" newspaper, he said:There can be no improvement in the relations between Italy and Great Britain so long as the British foreign policy is directed by Mr. Eden.That statement appeared a few days before the incident which we are discussing this afternoon. I should have thought that hon. Members opposite would have resented as deeply as hon. Members on this side any attempt on the part of Signor Mussolini or any other foreign ruler to dictate who shall be the British Foreign 86 Secretary. I must confess that I feel somewhat alarmed at the quiescent attitude of supporters of the Government in regard to a situation which I believe is without precedent in the history of our country. There is no hon. Member on this side who has any objection to the policy of general appeasement to which the Prime Minister referred. The sooner the nations of the world can come together in an attempt to deal with the political and economic problems which confront civilisation to-day the more likely we shall be to avoid the conflagration which appears to many people to be inevitable. But when two or more nations seek to enter into negotiations they usually do so on a basis of equality and I should have thought it was obvious to hon. Members opposite that there would be no equality if our country entered into negotiations with Italy at the present time with this threat to Egypt, with this concentration of the best part of 100,000 Italian troops on the Egyptian frontier. I believe it is an open secret, because I heard it from high quarters myself when I was in Cairo, that this concentration of troops on the Egyptian frontier has caused great alarm in the minds of the Egyptian people, a nation with a comparatively small army apart from the British troops in Egypt.
How can there be any basis of equality when we have this concentration of troops in Libya and this continuous stream of anti-British propaganda carried on not only in Italy but from Italian possessions to all points of the earth, a propaganda misrepresenting the policy of this Government and the people of this country. We have also the 80,000 or 100,000 Italian troops in Spain, quite contrary to the obligation imposed by the Covenant of the League. There is no doubt that today we are experiencing a new technique of aggression; there is no declaration of war, you call your troops volunteers, supply them with all the arms they need and send them to the country which you want to invade. We have the Balearic Islands, Majorca under the control of Italian officers, right on our lines of communication through the Mediterranean, and yet facing all these facts it is suggested that we should go unconditionally into negotiations with Italy.
The late Foreign Secretary made the statement that the attitude of the Italian Government was in fact, negotiate now or never. The Prime Minister disputed 87 that statement. This is a question of fact and I hope that the Prime Minister will listen to the appeal of the Leader of the Opposition and that a White Paper will be laid containing all the correspondence to which the Foreign Secretary referred, so that the public of this country may decide for themselves whether the late Foreign Secretary was correct when he said that there was a threat or whether the Prime Minister was correct when he disputed that statement. Be that as it may, the people of this country have received a very severe shock as a result of the resignation of the late Foreign Secretary. Many of us have criticised certain aspects of his policy during the last two years, but whether we like it or not the late Foreign Secretary was the best asset the Government had, and he was probably the most popular political leader in the country on the other side of the House. I think the Government have very much under-estimated the consequences of accepting the demands of Signor Mussolini that they should change their Foreign Secretary.
I happened to glance at one of the evening papers to-night and I find that some other countries in the world are summing up the change in these words. The general view in the United States is that Britain "bows the knee to Italy." The French papers, apparently, are takin the view that Britain is weakening. The Italian papers are taking the view that this is a great victory for Signor Mussolini. I hope the Government are satisfied with allowing the Italians to crow that they have achieved a great victory over this country. I do not believe that to be correct. The strength of this country rests not on the Front Bench nor on the back benches but on the public throughout the length and breadth of the land. I believe that public opinion in this country is sound on this issue and that it will not allow its confidence in the late Foreign Secretary to be displaced as a result of the rather weak defence put forward by the Prime Minister to-day. Listening to the two right hon. Members, I believe that the House was very much more convinced by the statement of the late Foreign Secretary than by the hesitating and weak defence on the part of the Prime Minister. When the time comes for the Government to go to the country and ask for 88 another doctor's mandate similar to that which they secured by misrepresentation two years ago, they will find that though they can fool some of the people part of the time and all the people some of the time, they cannot fool all the people all the time.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I should like to say to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) with what a considerable degree of agreement I heard the excellent speech he has just made. No one can charge him with any responsibility whatever for the unhappy relations which now exist between this country and Italy, nor can anyone charge him with any hesitation in putting forward in earlier days the need and the case for an understanding with the Italian people. I do not propose to answer in detail the speech made by the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) because the greater part of his speech was answered in advance by the right hon. Member for Spark-brook. Once more the hon. Member has given a long catalogue of no doubt genuine British grievances against the Government of Italy, but he made no attempt to understand—as the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook suggested his party so rarely do—the grievences against this country which the ruler and the people of Italy either rightly or wrongly feel.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
Will the hon. Member tell us what grievances Italy has apart from our participation in sanctions?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
They regard the mobilisation of 52 nations at Geneva against their activities in Abyssinia as primarly if not entirely the work of the British Government. I am not defending that point of view, but I am merely saying that continuously to refuse to realise their point of view will do no good to the peace of the world. The hon. Member for Kingswinford said that when Italy has troops massed in Libya is not the time to go to the conference table with the Italian Government. I cannot imagine a more opportune or essential moment, when there is a threat to British security for a genuine attempt to try and find out what is wrong and how that threat has arisen. The hon. Member in a rather contemptuous way—I do not think the country agrees with him—said that the late Foreign Secretary has been virtually 89 hounded out of office in order to placate Signor Mussolini. Some of us have a vivid recollection of the attempt of the Trades Union Congress to dictate as to who should be Ministers in a Labour administration. We do not cast Signor Mussolini for the role—[Interruption]—of the Trades Union Congress.
The right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) said that the resignation of the late Foreign Secretary would delight our enemies and distress our friends. That is very vivid evidence of just that state of mind which so many of us deplore, and which a new conference with Signor Mussolini is designed to dispel. We have no enemies. We are living under conditions of peace which are hectic and uncertain, but we decline to accept the view that the Italian people are our natural enemies or that this bitterness should necessarily continue. The whole purpose of these conversations, which I am thankful to think are about to be started, is to make it evident to the Italian people that their form of government is a matter for them to decide and that we are just as ready to come to friendly relations with totalitarian States as with great democracies.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Will the hon. Member tell us in what way the Italian people have any chance of influencing their Government?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I think that Signor Mussolini interprets and gives expression to Italian aspirations far better than any Parliamentary regime in Italy did in the past. As an illustration of the state of mind of some people in this country let me draw attention to what was said in the "News-Chronicle" a few weeks ago when His Majesty the King of the Belgians came to this country and was given a universal welcome as the Sovereign of a friendly people. The "News-Chronicle" said—I am not quotnig the exact words, that—His Majesty could be assured of a friendly welcome in England so long as Belgium remained loyal to parliamentary and democratic institutions. The friendship of this country to Belgium does not rest on our common Parliamentary and democratic tradition but on friendship for her and the need to keep the low countries secure from attack, and many of us deplore the attempt to line up the great Powers of the world into democratic and dictator 90 nations. Many of us believe that if an attempt was being made in the case of Russia, with whom we were in some unhappy dispute, to come to some arrangement, hon. Members on the other side would be far more ready to meet around a conference table and not ask for anything in advance.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness also said that it might be possible to buy peace for a few years at the cost of the people of Spain. I am at a loss to understand what he meant. The intention of these conversations, so far as they relate to the Spanish war, is to secure the grant of belligerent rights if and when there has been a substantial withdrawal of volunteers. If the case of the Liberal and Labour party is correct, that the whole strength of the insurgent forces depends on volunteers, then the withdrawal of these volunteers will cause the insurgent forces to collapse. I can assure the Prime Minister that the country as a whole, whatever some Members here may say, is very solemnly behind him. [Interruption.] I am quite prepared to pit my own view against the opinion of hon. Members opposite who twice in the last few years have been contemptuously rejected by the electors. The country wants peace, and the success of this policy will be whether we succeed in putting an end for the time being, it may be for all time, to these ceaseless and senseless rivalries.
We reject most emphatically the arrogant assumption of hon. Members opposite that these rivalries cannot be ended save with dishonour. We believe that now is the most opportune time to initiate these conversations. There is not likely to be a better occasion on which to come to some arrangement with Italy, and I am glad to feel that the Prime Minister and his colleagues have cut the Gordian knot and are prepared to take what they must recognise may be a misunderstood step in order to bring about that happy consummation. Members on the other side of the House so frequently suggest that we are frightened of standing up to dictators or other Governments, afraid of using the great defence force which at last, I am glad to think, the country is acquiring. We are not frightened. We recognise that the time might come when a war might be necessary, but we know that it would in all probability develop into a world war.
91 Two years ago quite a case could be made out—more than an academic case—for fighting Italy. Two years ago there was a lot to be said for putting on extreme sanctions—I did not agree myself, but there was a case—for oil sanctions and even military sanctions, in order to bring that unhappy and in some ways barbarous war to a speedy conclusion; but that opportunity was lost, and not least because of the state of unpreparedness of this country, for which many hon. Members opposite must accept their own share of blame. Two years ago we could have justified on many platforms aggressive and hostile action against Italy, but instead we placed ourselves in a humiliating dilemma—either to leave a people who trusted the League in the lurch, or to run the risk of a world war. But there is nothing whatever to be said, after having let that chance slip, for keeping alive hostility and bitterness with Italy, for failing to get to terms and to find out what is wrong.
In common with many other Members I have innumerable Italian friends. I do not believe that people who have visited Italy in the last two years will deny, in spite of the bitterness that politics has brought in, that the Italian people treat English visitors with unfailing courtesy, thus showing the mark of a high civilisation which some of their critics would do well to emulate. When it is suggested that Signor Mussolini represents only himself, I would remind hon. Members of the amazing and quite spontaneous receptions that he receives in many, if not all, parts of Italy, and I would say this as well, that if there was disunion—which I do not believe—before sanctions were put on two years ago, the one result of the imposition of sanctions was completely to unite the Italians behind him. If you looked at the various returns made in Italy you would find vivid evidence of the improvement in the condition of people in the last ten years—the deposits in the savings banks and friendly societies, for instance—which scarcely suggests the growing impoverishment of the Italian people. I would suggest to those persons who are so anxious that we should make an old friend and ally into a permanent enemy that they should understand a little of what is being done in carrying out a domestic programme 92 with which we can all sympathise, however much we may disagree in international politics.
I understand that these conversations, whenever they take place, may centre around two points to which I would like to make brief reference in conclusion. One is the Spanish problem, and the other is the question of the recognition of Abyssinia. I believe that my right hon. Friend was absolutely right when he quoted the late Lord Salisbury's words in favour of burying the carcases of dead policies. However much we may dislike much of the Italian campaign in Abyssinia, it is, I believe, the height of folly to continue to dwell in an unreal world and to deny that the King of Italy is now Emperor of Abyssinia. And when quotations are hurled at our heads from the American Press, or like one I read this morning, which said that the recognition of Abyssinia would imply the acceptance of the principle of acquisition by force, I think we may fairly say to the United States, How did they acquire New Mexico, Texas, Cuba and the Philippines? Indeed, was it not partly by force and not wholly through the incompetence of Whig generals that they acquired their own national independence?
If it is suggested that Italy has not effective control over its territories in Africa, I think it is a little difficult for British people to use that argument at a time when we are engaged in very unfortunate, but necessary, repressive measures in Palestine, and have recently concluded almost a major war in Waziristan. On 1st January, 1887, the Empress of India was acclaimed at Delhi, and although there were many critics in this House of the acquisition by Queen Victoria of an Imperial title, every foreign nation immediately recognised her new designation, and Disraeli, when recommending the Imperial designation to this House made use of these words:It is only by the amplification of titles you can often touch and satisfy the imagination of nations, and that is a lesson which Governments must not despise.I very much hope that, when these conversations take place, the Government will recognise this sovereignty in East Africa. I see in that action no endorsement of the methods that were used, and no approval of an aggressive act. The second point which I imagine will form 93 a large part of these negotiations is the question of belligerency and the Spanish war. May I assure His Majesty's Government that whether we hope for a victory of the insurgents, as I do, or whether we support the Government at Valencia, as many of my hon. Friends do, all alike, I believe, hold the view that British interests can best be served in a war that is in part a maritime war by the granting of those belligerent rights which will prevent the recurrence of unfortunate incidents on the sea in the future, and which are in no sense a violation of neutrality, but merely the assertion of a fact.
Everybody must have sympathised with the position of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), and I hope I may be allowed to make one reference to the physical strain under which he has been suffering, not only because of the negotiations, personal and public, that he has been conducting, but also because of the continual harrying to which he has been subjected in this House, at Question Time during the last few months. I do not believe that the right and proper practice for private Members of Parliament to be allowed to catechise Ministers necessarily meant, when it was first granted, that the man on whose shoulders lay so many grave and awkward decisions should be obliged to come day by day to this House and answer innumerable supplementary questions of which he had had little or no notice. Last Monday the right hon. Gentleman answered 39 questions on the Order Paper. He is often asked an average of two supplementaries to every question, which means that over a hunded times he may have to give answers to which the whole world is listening. It may be that questions on the Order Paper can be answered without embarrassment, but I would ask hon. Members to remember the possible dangers caused by supplementary questions if in the answer there is a word wrong here or there, or undue stress is laid on this word or that by the Minister in his reply which might land this country in intolerable difficulties. And I hope that as one result of this unhappy resignation there may be a reconsideration of this question in order to see whether we cannot arrive at some solution, and whether, without in any way gagging this House, we can release those who are 94 responsible for the control of our policy from perpetual and daily harrying.
There used to be a proverb that he who aspires to govern should stay at home and have the gout. I agree with that, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister does also. May I quote, in regard to him, words used in this House by Mr. Asquith when paying tribute to Mr. Joseph Chamberlain:He brought to Government a freshness of outlook, a directness of purpose and a certain impatience of conventional and circuitous methods.As one of his supporters I wish him and his colleagues success in the momentous conversations which are shortly to be inaugurated.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) made the interesting suggestion that the disagreement which has occurred between the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister may have been due in part to the fact that the Foreign Minister has been harried by questions from this side of the House. Let us compare what happens here and in some other countries. I believe that in Germany the Reichstag meets once a year when the Deputies listen, as they did yesterday, to a speech from their Leader which lasted two hours and three-quarters. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that we should abrogate our right to question our Foreign Secretary in favour of some sort of system which, no doubt, would be far more acceptable from the point of view of a Foreign Secretary in Germany or in Italy? But the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman is an absurd one. I quite realise that in questioning the Foreign Secretary in this House hon. Members should have a sense of responsibility, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that if he wishes to curtail the right of questioning Ministers in this House he will get very little support from the Benches on his own side of the House. In discussing this question to-night no amount of argument can get over the obvious fact that there is a grievous disagreement between the late Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister and the remainder of his colleagues in the Cabinet. We have listened to the statement to-night of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and his colleague the late Under-Secretary, as well as to the Prime Minister, and 95 what emerges from those statements? We have it on the authority of the right hon. Gentleman who has conducted the foreign affairs of this country for some years, and presumably has had the confidence of his colleagues, that he disagrees with the policy which the Prime Minister advocated to us this afternoon.
Let us, if we can, examine those two points of disagreement, and if possible without partisanship, because I entirely agree that it would be for the good of this country if foreign affairs could be lifted out of party politics. Let us be under no illusion; we have reached a state in British and international affairs when events which are taking place are extremely serious. Whether we follow the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the late Foreign Secretary or that of the Prime Minister, we are not free agents. There are other countries, and there are dictators who have their own points of view. If we could get round a table with them and argue out differences, as the Prime Minister wants us to do, accepting in advance their good faith, then I for one, would be quite willing to trust to the Prime Minister's judgment. But I doubt the wisdom of this policy. I agree entirely with the late Foreign Secretary that the Prime Minister's policy is bound to fail from the start. After all, when we examine the statements made by the two right hon. Gentlemen this afternoon in a judicial manner, we are bound to admit there is a great deal in what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington has said. He speaks from past experience. The Prime Minister says, "Let us neglect that entirely, let us put it behind us and assume from the outset that the Italian Government are genuine and want a settlement." I believe they do, but what I am concerned with, and what I think the supporters of the Government ought to be concerned with, is the question: "What are the terms on which the Italian Government want a settlement?" Are they terms which would affect British interests? I believe that they will seriously affect British interests, for the Italian Government itself is not a free agent.
The Italian Government is linked up in the Berlin-Rome axis, and even further than that in the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo triangle. If hon. Members want evidence 96 of what are the terms of the partners in the triangle, they would have found it if they had listened in, as I did yesterday, to the speech of the Chancellor of Germany. The German Fuhrer made certain significant statements. I think he told this country plainly that he would not do any business with us except on his own terms. Hon. Members know that I have spoken in the House for fair treatment for Germany. I have not been afraid—although it did not coincide with the opinions on this side of the House and certainly not with those of hon. Members opposite—to advocate some colonial settlement with Germany. I believe that at the end of the War the German people were unjustly treated. To-day, the leader of Germany says that he has only one quarrel with this country, and that is on the colonial issue.
If the Prime Minister is going to advocate a policy of appeasement, let him explain to the House what it is. Let him explain to his own followers, if he dares, that to follow the Government's policy of appeasement means inevitably the returning to Germany of some of the ex-German Colonies. I do not mind, if only the Prime Minister will explain his policy. If he will do that, I shall not be afraid to say whether I agree or disagree with it; but it is impossible to learn from the Government what their policy is. In the case of Austria, for instance, hon. Members have questioned the ex-Foreign Secretary, not without reason, as to what is the Government's policy concerning the integrity and independence of Austria. What have the Government said in reply? They have said that their policy stands as it was two or three years ago. When I asked the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day whether the Government's declared policy with regard to the independence and integrity of Austria included a Customs union between Germany and Austria, the right hon. Gentleman evaded the point. But Herr Hitler does not evade it. He has told us definitely what he wants, and he has told us what he proposes to get. If this country is prepared to shrug its shoulders, to say, "Let Herr Hitler have an anschluss, political and economic," we know where we are; but the Government, while they express their policy in nebulous terms of independence and integrity, will not say what that really means. It is 97 there that I disagree with the Prime Minister and it is there that the former Foreign Secretary disagrees with him.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington has to-day explained that he was quite prepared to negotiate with Italy, although in his position it must have been very objectionable for him to do so. The right hon. Gentleman was willing to negotiate with Italy. "Very well," says the Prime Minister, "I want really to get down to business." The ex-Foreign Secretary says, "Yes, but before we go into the negotiating chamber to negotiate business, we want certain heads of agreement drawn up." The Prime Minister simply brushes that aside and says, "No, I will go into the negotiating chamber without any conditions and without any terms, believing that Italy is ready to give us what we want." Surely, the Prime Minister is asking us, in colloquial language, to back his gamble, for the policy which he advocated this afternoon is a gamble, and I suggest that the odds are very much against him. If hon. Members wish to have evidence of that, let them consider the words of those with whom we are asked to negotiate. The leaders of Italy and Germany leave us in no doubt as to what they want and what their policy is. Let hon. Members, if they can, shut their eyes to the words in a book written 10 or 15 years ago, although we are always fond of quoting it; but if only they had listened to the words of the leader of Germany yesterday, there was the evidence which leads the ex-Foreign Secretary to assume that it is impossible to come to an agreement with the present leaders of Italy.
I ask the Government in all seriousness whether the policy on which they are about to embark will not lose us more friends than it will gain us. Do they think that France will continually follow our policy? Do they really think that France is not in a position to come to terms with Germany? I suggest that France could come to terms with Germany far quicker than this country could. I suggest, moreover, that France is prepared to come to terms on the colonial issue, on which our Government are not prepared to come to terms. In the last War, we had France on our side. The ex-Foreign Secretary has explained in the House and in his speech at Leamington what are the issues on which this country 98 might be forced to fight. One of those is the integrity of the Low Countries, and I believe France as well. If we desert France and make terms with Italy—and we know what those terms will be—and with Germany the senior partner in the axis, I believe those terms will be such as to lose us the friendship of France. I am not prepared to risk the friendship of France for the possible friendship of Italy and Germany.
I believe that sooner or later the whole question of appeasement will have to be settled. I believe that the colonial, economic, financial and political issues will have to be settled between the different countries. The Versailles Treaty, the Treaty of Trianon and all the other agreements that finished the War cannot remain for ever. What we have to decide is whether those treaties are to be broken in the manner in which the German Govern-man are breaking them at the present time in the case of Austria, and as they will possibly break them, when the appropriate time comes, in the case of Czechoslovakia, or whether the political and economic frontiers that were drawn at the end of the Great War shall be settled on grounds of equity and justice. In these days it may seem futile to talk about equity and justice in international affairs, but, although the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington has not always coincided with my views, I am today prepared to agree with him that if we want a long-term settlement, that settlement can be based only on some grounds that will be stable and permanent.
It is because I believe that even if the Prime Minister is able to come to some terms with Italy—and I have my doubts on that—those terms will be such that, although they may promise us a few years of peace—I am not even prepared to go as far as that, indeed—trouble between this country and, not Italy, but a far greater Power, Germany, is inevitable. It is because I follow the lead of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington when he says that we must base our settlement on a League of Nations policy, however much the League of Nations as an instrument has disappeared to-day, that I reject the policy that was advocated by the Prime Minister this afternoon.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Nicolson
It is only fitting that a junior Member, intervening in a Debate of this importance, should restrict himself to only a few remarks upon the point at issue. Anything I may say this evening I say entirely in my personal capacity; it does not represent the views of that group to which I have the honour to belong, and to which I trust I shall continue to belong. I would like to get to the essential point of this unhappy controversy. It seems to me that the essential point is that on which my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) actually tendered his resignation, namely, in what form should negotiations be opened with Italy? My right hon. Friend did not resign on the question of negotiations being opened. Therefore, the point is not whether we should or should not aim at friendship with Italy or whether we should or should not end a vendetta. On that point I think we are all agreed. The point is, What is the best form in which to negotiate?
It may be said that this is a mere point of procedure, a mere matter of detail. I do not think so. It seems to me to be a fundamental issue. It is the issue whether our foreign policy is to be conducted on a basis of expediency or on a basis of principle. I think that when we examine this matter; when we are able to read the papers in the case; when we are able to know exactly what passed between Signor Grandi, the Prime Minister and the late Foreign Secretary; we shall see that this is not merely a little point of procedure, but a great question of principle. It is the problem whether a country which has continuously, consistently, deliberately and without apology, violated every engagement into which she has ever entered can be taken back into the fold with a smile; or whether it is better to make a few concrete conditions before negotiations are resumed. I think it will be found, when the true issues of this controversy are known, that opinion, let us say in the United States, in the Scandinavian countries, in Holland and even in France, will centre upon this very point—that the late Foreign Secretary stood for a certain measure of behaviour and conduct in foreign affairs and that his repudiation means that the present Government, unconsciously perhaps, feel that we must not permit highbrowism, or 100 ethics, or uplift to stand in our way. That, I think, is the issue.
I am alarmed not merely because of the principle involved, but because I have some experience of negotiating with Italy and some knowledge of her record. I think those hon. Members who have ever conducted negotiations with Italians know very well, and to their cost, the methods that are pursued. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has come into the House. I think he will agree with me that the Italian method of negotiation is that of the corkscrew. The tip of the corkscrew is placed gently, charmingly, sweetly upon the top of the cork. Nothing happens. The bottle is placed in the right position. That manoeuvre is called "good relations"; it is called "ending a vendetta." Suddenly, the corkscrew is given a twist and the cork begins to squeak. That is the method. It goes further. They have a perfect system of inventing something that they do not want, of clamouring for the thing they do not want, of saying they will die if they do not get it, and then when they get it, of asking for something else. They have a perfect system which they have used consistently, under which they pretend that you are menacing them, or that something which you want is of vital importance to them. They then surrender it with a tremendous gesture and say, "What do we get in return?" They have the standing method which is called in Italian a "combinazione" under which they never let you know the maximum of their demand. They let you suppose that their demand is something quite modest, but the corkscrew goes in a little further all the time until you find that the cork has no means of egress except in close conjunction with the corkscrew. It is that method which alarms me to-day. I agree completely and absolutely with my right hon. Friend that it would be foolish, after all our experience, to re-enter negotiations with Italy without first obtaining certain concrete guarantees.
Three main conditions should have been laid down before we entered into any form of official or overt conversations. The first should have been a substantial evacuation from Spain. The second should have been on propaganda. The third should certainly have been the withdrawal of the 100,000 men, or whatever 101 the number is, from Libya. We should have said, "When you do that, then we shall believe in your good faith." But the Prime Minister comes here this evening and with a gesture of triumph produces Count Grandi's little note in which he said that he will now do something which ought to have been done under "the Gentlemen's Agreement." The Prime Minister said that that document was a splendid bit of give-and-take. So it is. We give and they take. What does it mean? It means that the Italians have agreed to evacuate a certain number of their troops from Spain where they ought never to have been; where we ought never to have allowed them to go. Now, when their intervention there has been a ghastly failure, they are only too delighted to get this beautiful excuse for withdrawing from an unpopular and disastrous venture. In return, we have to give them recognition of belligerent rights, which, now that Franco is quite unable to win the war by land or air, may possibly give him the final naval advantage. That is the great concession which Italy makes to us. It is not a concession. We are simply helping Mussolini out; and yet it is on that so-called concession that we are to open these publicly-proclaimed and enormously advertised negotiations. We do so without having come to any previous agreement as to their scope or their purpose.
I understand that we have been told by the Italians that they only wish to talk about a few very simple little subjects such as a trade agreement and the question of the Mediterranean and the Colonial question. What will happen when the corkscrew gets in on these questions? It will end I suppose with the suggestion of a big fat loan to Italy—which I trust this House will never grant because, by granting it, they would be bolstering up a system which is about to crash financially. There is the Mediterranean question. What does that mean? They will promise not to fortify Pantelleria. They will get the corkscrew in again and they will say, "We want naval parity in the Mediterranean." How can there be naval parity—parity in tonnage and gun emplacements—when the geographical situation is absolutely to our disadvantage, and when the air is the dominant factor as regards our communications? They will say, possibly, "The Mediterranean question—of 102 course, that means the Suez Canal; the Suez Canal is as much an artery for us as for you; we must share in its control."
Then there is the Colonial question, and it will be said that this means only recognising the King of Italy as Emperor of Abyssinia. I would hate to do that myself, but I would be prepared to do it on the basis of a really good deal on which one could count. But are we sure that the Colonial question will not mean frontier rectifications in Somaliland and giving them rights and routes in Northern Kenya? May it not even mean some fantastic conception of a corridor from Tripoli across the Sudan to Abyssinia?
The corkscrew will go in and in and in, and what will the Government do? Are they to accept these things? This country could never back such demands. Are they to reject them and break off negotiations? Was it worth while, then, getting rid of the right hon. Gentleman simply to arrive at a situation which will be infinitely worse than the present situation?
Suppose the Government succeed in modifying Mussolini's aspirations and manage, at a price which is not intolerable, to achieve some agreement. What do they get for it? The friendship of Italy. Well, we have the friendship of Italy. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) spoke of how strong the friendship of Italy was with us, and how much they welcomed the British tourists—as their invisible exports. Other countries do that, and the question is not whether we have the friendship of the Italian people—which I earnestly trust we shall always have—but whether we can have any confidence in the friendship promised us, at great cost, by the present Italian Government, or any Italian Government at their present stage of civilisation.
I do not wish particularly to take advantage of this occasion to attack Signor Mussolini. It is not our business to do so, but if I may pass to the second part of my remarks I would like to consider Italy's record. I have discussed the methods of the Italian Government. Let us now consider its record, not under the present system—because that is a story which is too horrible to be told in this House—but in the pre-Mussolini period. It is literally true that no vitally important political treaty has ever been signed by Italy that she has not broken.
103 In 1882 a treaty was signed between Italy, Austria, and Germany—the Triple Alliance. From that treaty, Italy obtained immense advantages over a great period of years. She obtained strength when she was weak and protection when she was expanding. It helped her enormously, but the moment she had to pay something for it, in 1914, not only did she back out, but she opened negotiations in Vienna to ask, "What price will you give me for remaining neutral?" She asked a price, not for coming in on Austria's side, but for not going against Austria. At the very same time, she opened negotiations in London saying, "How much will you give me to betray my Allies?" To our eternal shame we accepted. It was a terrible price to pay, and I think we ought to have refused. The treaty then made was called the Treaty of London, and it gave Italy enormous concessions and tremendous rights and privileges. What did she do when we won the War? She repudiated even that Treaty. She claimed Fiume which she had promised to Yugoslavia. She claimed the whole of Albania, a large part of which she had also promised to Yugoslavia. She broke vital clauses of that very Treaty which she had accepted in order to break her alliance with Germany and Austria.
Let me take another Treaty—the Treaty of Lausanne, the Treaty technically known as that of Ouchy, the one which was made after the Tripoli war. Italy made the most aggresive war in history, and suddenly pounced upon Tripoli. She made a treaty in 1912 under which she agreed to give back to Turkey the Dodecanese Islands. She kept them and then got out of giving them back to Turkey and entered into the Tittoni-Venizelos agreement under which she promised to give them, or some of them to Greece to whom they actually belonged. Then peace came, and what did she do? She repudiated that agreement on the ground that "circumstances had changed." I will not go much further. I will just refer to Mussolini's first action, a very few months after the march on Rome, when he bombarded Corfu and broke for the first, but not by any means the last, time the Covenant of the League of Nations. My argument is that to anyone having any experience of Italian diplomacy, these methods of Italy 104 are so intricate and so dangerous as to require firm guarantees in advance; and thereafter a clear statement of the scope and nature of any negotiations into which you may subsequently enter. The Government are not doing that, and the Foreign Secretary has resigned. The second point is that even if you do open negotiations the record of Italy for duplicity in the matter of the sanctity of treaties is so terrible that we cannot seriously sacrifice any British asset for such a liability.
In conclusion, I would say this. Behind all this argument as to whether the late Foreign Secretary resigned merely on some question of procedure or on principle, there lie certain great facts, about which we here may argue but which the world outside will recognise for itself. The late Foreign Secretary struggled hard to preserve the rule of law and order, the theory of the League of Nations, the belief in the sanctity of treaties, and the confidence of the world—which we may lose by this action. However weak we might be, however divided, however muddle-headed; although we might sometimes be frightened, and sometimes misled; we never definitely defended wrong with cool and planned deliberation as we are doing now. I regret that those great principles of our policy, those charters of that authority which we have for so many centuries exercised in the world should now lie tattered at our feet, should be called scraps of paper or matters of detail. Above all, I regret that we should see:their sire,Butchered to make a Roman holiday.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby
We have listened to an interesting and instructive speech from the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson), but I wonder whether the prospects of peace throughout Europe have been enhanced by his attack upon Italy. I wonder whether the prospects of agreement being reached with Italy in the interests of world peace, have been improved by the accusations of ill-faith which he has made. I deplore this Debate and I deplore still more the reasons for it. I think there is no section of the House that does not feel sympathy for the right hon. Gentleman lately the Foreign Secretary. I think also that those of us who sit on this side feel 105 sympathy with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. These resignations—and let us face the fact—must weaken our influence in Europe. A world which at the present time is in a state of tension, a world where passions are so aroused, is not likely to be calmed in its mind by what it will believe to be dissensions in the Government of the one country which apparently is sound and which stands for peace. Cleavage of opinion between opposite sides of this House is well understood on the Continent; cleavage of view in the ranks of the Cabinet is not so well understood, and may give rise to feelings of apprehension, the results of which none of us can foresee.
We may not like dictators or their methods, but both we and the people whom we represent in this House have to realise that you cannot make peace in Europe unless you consult with the dictators. Whether we like or do not like the Governments which obtain in Italy or in Germany is entirely beside the point. They are the only Governments with whom it is possible for us to negotiate at the present time. Our primary responsibility is to the people of this country. We owe a duty to those whom we represent to leave no stone unturned, no effort unmade, to see whether it is not by some means possible to obtain a settlement of those differences of opinion which exist between nation and nation, and particularly between ourselves and the Italian Government. I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), that there is no difference of opinion between ourselves and the people of Italy. The peace of the world is something a great deal bigger than the reputation of one individual, and I am sure that both the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) would be the first to subscribe to that. Have some of the speeches to which we have listened to-day been conducive of good results and a help in our efforts to obtain peace? Accusations have been made of bad faith on the part of Italy. If one quarrels with another individual, and if each waits for the other to make a gesture which will resolve the quarrel, is it not the common experience of everybody in this House that that gesture very often remains unmade?
106 I do not care if there has been bad faith on the part of the Italian Government. Before you take action which may precipitate an explosion which no person in this House and no nation in Europe desires to see take place, in the interests of common humanity and the peace of the world, however many times you may have suffered from bad faith on the part of those with whom you negotiate, you must still make every effort that lies in your power to get to the root of the trouble, to find out what it is that your potential enemy is finding a trouble, and to try in some way to resolve the doubts and difficulties which exist in his mind. There is no doubt that throughout this country there has been growing for some time a deep apprehension at the way in which events throughout the world seem to be marching inexorably towards war, but the fact that we have been kept out of participation in war by the Government is something for which I, at any rate, and those whom I represent in this House are devoutly grateful. We have to realise what seems to be an inevitable drift towards the edge of the precipice, and it is therefore no help in the present situation to say that you must take a stand on some matter of detail, or even of principle, if by negotiating directly with those with whom you have a difference of opinion there is any hope that you may by some means prevent the procession towards that precipice. There is not a Government in the world that desires to see war, and yet up to date it would appear to be absolutely impossible for the nations of the world to find a means of preventing war. If the action of the right hon. Gentleman will do something definite towards arresting the procession to the edge of the precipice, I think we ought to wish him Godspeed.
I listened to the attack which was made by the hon. Member for West Leicester, who, I am sorry, is no longer in the House, and I could not help thinking that if that is the spirit and the way in which he went to work when he was negotiating, it is no wonder that he met with the failure which he now deplores. It has been said:Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him.I believe that to be true. It may be that in defence of principles, in the interests of the people of this country and in the Defence of this Empire, we may have to 107 go to war, but I say that no Government, and no Prime Minister, has any right to leave any action undone which will prevent our becoming involved in war.
Reference is continually made to the League of Nations. In this year 1938, at any rate, the whole world is faced with realities. I believe as much as anybody in this House in the idea underlying the creation of the League of Nations. I believe that inevitably one day the peoples of the world will have to get round a table and discuss their difficulties and their differences, but it is no contribution to the solution of world problems continually to invoke the aid of the League of Nations as it is at present constituted. I think the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) is worthy of consideration by this House. How can anybody believe that the League of Nations as at present constituted can be anything but a menace to world peace? Outside it you have Italy, Germany, Japan, and the United States of America, and I see the danger envisaged by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that unless you can find some association of the nations of the world which will embrace those four great Powers, you cannot get the work accomplished which we had hoped to see done by the League of Nations. Indeed you run this further risk, that unless you can find some association of the nations of the world into which those four great Powers will gladly come, you may be faced with the spectacle of those four Powers, or at any rate three of them, forming as it were an opposition League, and thus making the cleavage of opinions and aspirations throughout the world even deeper than it is at present.
I think that to-day there is an opportunity for every Member of this House to take stock. I do not wish to make a point which has often been made in this House, that hon. Members opposite desire war and that hon. Members on this side do not. I think the times are much too serious for that. I do not believe that anybody in this House desires war. I think we are only divided by our views as to what should be done to prevent war happening, and I beg hon. Members to give consideration to this fact. If you can make one more effort, unconditionally, to discuss with the Italian Government those very points of difference which at present 108 seem so to exacerbate feelings upon both sides, may you not have done something concrete to make less likely the war which now seems so inevitable? I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has done right. I think that people do not fully realise the Italian attitude of mind. We consider that the Italian Government have been false to many of their promises, and so they have, but if on this occasion we have made a gesture which the Italian Government are prepared to accept, and if they are prepared to come into a consultation with us with a desire on both sides to find a satisfactory solution, then I cannot understand what it is that some hon. Members of this House complain about in the Prime Minister's speech. I think we listened—I certainly did—with pleasure and approbation to his calm, impartial, and very fair summing-up of the situation.
The Leader of the Opposition, in his speech, made a remark to which I would pay some attention. He said that this was making friends with a nation guilty of gross outrages. What would his view be if we were trying to negotiate with the Russian Government? It is obvious to everybody that that Government has been guilty of the grossest outrages. I do not think, in the present state of world affairs, that it is any good to throw across the Floor of this House accusations against any Government or any people. I deplore as much as anybody in this House the Italian methods and actions in Abyssinia, but we have to live in the world as it exists to-day, and if the only thing between us and a solution of the world's difficulties, between us and world peace, is the recognition of Italy in Abyssinia, I believe that, in the interests of the peace of the nations of the world, we should recognise Italy in Abyssinia. It is idle to speculate as to what indeed is happening in Abyssinia. That is essentially a matter for the Italians and the Abyssinians. It is equally idle to speculate on the subject of Spain. I believe in being impartial as far as Spain is concerned. The war in Spain is a matter for the Spanish people, but if you could get the withdrawal of volunteers and material on both sides in Spain, that would be something which would bring the peace of the world a great deal nearer.
We hear perpetually about the numbers of men and the amount of Italian 109 material poured into Spain, but everybody in this House knows that material and thousands of men have been poured in upon the other side. All that I am concerned about is to end the slaughter which is going on there, and if it is possible to find agreement with the Italians in these conversations, which will result in the removal of the Italian volunteers from Spain, and if the door can then be opened so that all volunteers may be removed from Spain, I believe that it will not be long before the Spanish people themselves on both sides will so compose their differences that once more peace will exist in that tortured country. I stand wholeheartedly behind the Prime Minister in the declaration he has made. I believe that I owe it to those whom I represent to say that in my opinion the one thing that matters to the British people is that although principles must of course be observed, nothing should be done, simply from a desire to stick too meticulously to forms of procedure, which might hinder a satisfactory solution of the difficulties with which we, and the Italian Government no less than ourselves, are at present faced.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
This is the first occasion on which I have ventured to intervene in a Debate on foreign affairs, and I do so only because I think the point of view not only of the Opposition, but of the great trade union movement outside, ought to be expressed. Members on the other side are often tempted to dismiss us on this side as representing only a small minority in this House which is overwhelmingly defeated every time we go into the Division lobby. If this country, however, is faced with a crisis and is once more engaged in war, the Members who speak here for a small minority in the House will speak in the country for an important section of the community, for the trade union movement and for the industrial workers. If, when we are at any time engaged in a conflict, the Government of the day do not carry with them the enthusiasm and good will of the workers, they will be faced with considerable difficulties.
Listening to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and the Prime Minister, I tried to picture a man in the country, an ordinary member of the 110 public, a miner in a pit, a steel or tin-plate worker, or a worker in a factory listening to-night on the wireless to a report of this Debate and trying to make up his mind. This is not merely a personal dispute between the late Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister; it is the personification of a dispute of principles and it becomes important because of that fact. The people in the country, the ordinary workers looking at this dispute, will regard it—and I think rightly—as the final betrayal of the League of Nations by this Government. That is the serious thing which ought to be realised by this House. There are millions of people in the country who pin their faith in the League of Nations. The ordinary man in the street does not understand the structure of the League and has not gone through the Covenants, but he knows that the idea behind the League was to bring all the peoples of the world together, to get them to settle their disputes round the table, and to begin a new conception of the world in which all the peoples can enjoy the fruits of the world together.
The view is rightly held outside that the National Government, from the first day it came into office in 1931, has at every step betrayed the League of Nations. I do not propose to go over the long history, but we know that from the days of Manchukuo, when the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was Foreign Secretary, until the present day, the record of this Government has been one betrayal after another of the principles as well as of the structure of the League. The mass of the men and women of this country, the people who have to fight a war and pay for it, pin their faith in the League of Nations, the one decent thing which came out of the last War. If I pay a tribute at all to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington it is because at this late stage—I wish it had been sooner—he has stood up to his principles. It is to their eternal shame that there are in the Government men still calling themselves Liberals and others calling themselves National Labour, who stand by the Government in this final betrayal and have failed to follow the lead of at least one decent Conservative who has resigned from the Government.
The second aspect of this problem at which the average man will look is that it is a definite lining up by this Government beside the Fascist Powers. A view 111 is held in the country, which I share and which I believe is steadily gaining ground, that when we had a change of Premiership some time ago we had a swing to the Right. The Prime Minister is one who, in outlook and temperament, sympathises with the Fascist idea and with the Fascist States. What is happening here to-day will confirm that view. A statement of grave importance was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, and he was supported by the Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne), when he said that the actual incident which led to this cleavage in the Cabinet was a demand by Italy to negotiate now or never. I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to reply to the Debate, but I should like to ask him whether he supports the complete surrender of this country to Italy's demand? A good deal of the right hon. Gentleman's political reputation was derived from certain speeches he made in 1926 at the time of the General Strike, in which he waxed eloquently about the wickedness of trade unions in making threats. He said at that time that no negotiations ought to be held under threats and the threats must be withdrawn before negotiations could be begun.
Will the Chancellor apply the same principle to Signor Mussolini? Does he apply one principle to the trade unions of this country and another to Signor Mussolini? Will he refuse to talk to his fellow countrymen who are workers because they issue threats, and be willing to talk to Signor Mussolini because he uses threats? I shall be glad to hear how he reconciles the principles he adopted in the General Strike and the attitude of this Government in surrendering to the Fascist States. We, in the trade union movement, belong to a Labour and Socialist International, and we make no apology for it. We have international relationships and commitments. Do hon. Members expect us to applaud a Government which enters into negotiations with the Italian Government and the German Government, which have destroyed in their countries the movement of which we are a part? Am I expected to look with favour upon a British Government that holds out the hand of friendship to the German Government, which brutally murdered the President of the Miners' 112 International to which I have the privilege to belong? Am I expected to forget that? Men in the German trade union movement whom I knew and with whom I have worked in the Miners' International to raise the standard of the miners have been tortured and killed. Are we expected to look with favour upon that? The Government proposes to negotiate with the Fascist Powers, which deny any freedom to their workers. We cannot support a Government that fawns on Fascist Powers, which killed some of the best comrades we have had the privilege of knowing.
I understand that there are two things to be discussed. The first is the recognition of the conquest of Abyssinia. That indeed will be the final betrayal of the League. The second is the Spanish problem. I had the privilege recently of going to Spain with some of my colleagues—to Republican Spain, the people's Spain, the Spain that is fighting for its liberty. The Spanish Government are not merely having to fight the people who betrayed them in their own country, but are having to fight the Italians as well. I was there during what they called "Black Week." I and my colleagues saw aeroplanes coming over at mid-day in beautiful Barcelona when the sun was shining. We saw these Italian aeroplanes which came from Majorca and swept over the city killing 200 men, women and children. These are the Italians with whom the British Government are going to carry on negotiations. If the Government claim to speak for the people, we are voicing the demand of the people when we say that the Government should say to Signor Mussolini, "Before we talk a word with you, you must stop that bombing of innocent men, women and children?" It is shaking hands with murder to talk with Signor Mussolini.
The trade unions of this country desire to see the people of Spain get a fair chance. If the struggle had been one between the Spanish people, it would have been over months ago. Let me say a word of warning to friends of Spain. I am not surprised that Signor Mussolini is now prepared to take the Italians out of Spain. He has sent sufficient aeroplanes, guns and munitions there, and he may be willing to take half of the Italians out now because he believes he has made sure that there is such an overwhelming force of arms on Franco's side 113 that he can win. If the British Government side with Italy and if that action proves in any way helpful to Franco to win the war in Spain and to drown the Spanish Republic in blood, then the people of this country will soon realise the part that the British Government have played in fastening Fascism on to another country. Then we will have a new Europe—Germany, Italy and Spain painted black, and France and ourselves, with Czechoslovakia beyond, standing up for democracy.
Hon. Members opposite have said: "Do you suggest that we should not talk to these countries because they are Fascist countries?" No, we do not, but we agree that the late Foreign Secretary was right in saying that there must first of all be certain guarantees, and not only guarantees, but performance, before we talk. If first principles are laid down and assurances are given and performances are forthcoming we are prepared to speak with the Fascist powers on terms. But, may I ask, are hon. Members opposite prepared to speak with Soviet Russia? They do not like its Government, and we here do not like the Government of Germany and Italy. Are they prepared to sit down and negotiate with the Soviet Government even though they do not like that Government? The Prime Minister, speaking of the future, said, "I want to bring Italy, Germany, France and ourselves together," but can we get peace in Europe if we leave Soviet Russia outside? Can we get peace in Europe by leaving Czechoslovakia outside? Why this proposal to bring two Fascist Powers and France and ourselves together? Is this a Western Pact? Is this telling Germany, "You leave us alone in the West and good luck to you in the East"? Is that behind it?
The Prime Minister said not a word about Soviet Russia. We here feel that you cannot settle the peace of Europe without bringing in Russia. I do not like the kind of Government there is in Russia. I do not believe in dictatorships and I want to see democracy there. Russia has 110,000,000 people. They are a great people who are building up a new State, though making tragic mistakes. The most tragic of all is that they have not democratised their system of government, but some day they will. The Prime Minister, forecasting the future of Europe, left this mighty nation outside, 114 the only nation in Europe which in the last 10 years has been making progress, a nation which has become a formidable commercial and industrial nation, a nation which is raising its standard of life. What the Prime Minister ought to be doing is to bring the great democracies together. I should like to see England, France, Russia and America, the great democratic countries of the world, brought together, because I believe that it is only through democracy, and social democracy, that peace can come. I believe the people outside will realise that the real significance of the resignation is that this Government is lined up with the Fascists, and that soon we shall have an appeal to the country, and the country will then have a chance to return a real democratic Government to pursue a policy of peace.
§ 8.20 p.m.
I feel that on an occasion like this it is incumbent upon all hon. Members to say what they think. I feel that the resignation of my right hon. Friend the late Foreign Secretary will have a profound reaction on world polititics, and will not be without its effects on the fortunes of the Government and the Conservative party. There is far more here than a mere question of punctilio, a question of which is the best short-cut to getting an agreement with Italy. I think speakers on both sides of the House admit that this question is one of fundamental difference, and certainly that is how I regard it, because the resignation of my right hon. Friend will mean the jettisoning of the policy with which he has been identified, and it is in that sense that the country will take it. I do not know what has been the experience of other hon. Members, but already I have in my pocket telegrams, and not from supporters of the party opposite, begging me to stand by the late Foreign Secretary, and I believe—and I think it is as well to say it—that the resignation of my right hon. Friend will affect the fortunes of the Conservative party to a very serious extent.
An hon. Friend who was sitting behind me but has now left made a very sincere speech in which he argued "Why not negotiate with the only Government with which you can negotiate? You cannot change the Government in Italy, and you have to make the best of it." I think that argument was very well dealt with 115 by my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson). He showed that in a case like this it is no good taking the bluff and honest attitude of saying "Let us talk it over. It will all come right on the night. No doubt two sensible and honest people meeting round the table will come to some agreement." Here we have a State—and there are other such States in Europe—of which the definite morality—to use that word—is that the interests of the State come first, and that any wrong may be done as long as it furthers the national advantage. Also, we have going on now, even as we sit here to-night, attacks by broadcasts of a most scandalous description; Italian troops are being pushed into Libya—what they can do in that piece of sand except to threaten Egypt I cannot imagine; and a gentleman called Signor Gayda exhausts himself in vituperation of Great Britain until he is told to turn off the tap—and then I believe his praise is even more nauseous than his blame.
Does it pay to put up with that, or does it pay to negotiate in those circumstances? I do not believe that it does. I feel the risk of war as much as anybody, and I want an agreement, and if I thought the Prime Minister's course would lead to an agreement I should not say what I am saying now. It is easy to say, and it sounds so convincing, "Why not try it? Why not make one more effort? Even though previous attempts have failed and previous promises have all been broken, why not try once again?" I do not believe peace lies that way. Peace lies in our taking a quite different line. I believe that my right hon. Friend the late Foreign Secretary was entirely right when he said that we had to lay down certain conditions. Those conditions are not very onerous ones, but conditions which I should have thought a sincere negotiator on the opposite side would have granted before the discussions started.
Take the question of Spain. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) wants Franco to win in Spain. I want the Government in Spain to win. I should regard a victory for Franco as a national disaster to this country. That is the view which I have always held. But, quite apart from that, both my hon. Friend and I want the war there to stop, and will it stop if these 116 continual promises which are made are continually broken? Where are we now? What has the Prime Minister said that has not been said before and that has not been done?
One thing more: Just read the telegrams that are coming in from foreign countries. All the enemies of what we stand for are rejoicing and the friends of what we stand for are disappointed. Surely that must mean something. I know that the Prime Minister is convinced he is right and that his way will bring peace more certainly than any other. I only hope he may be right, but it is a great responsibility. I do not suppose that anybody in this House has had closer ties with Italy than I have had. I love the country. I have been there since I was six years old. My father was born in Rome, and my grandfather lies buried there. I have entirely selfish reasons for wanting that country to be kept open to an honest Englishman, and I am the very last person to be anti-Italian. Nevertheless I think that things have reached a pitch at which no self-respecting country can start negotiations unless certain conditions are first laid down.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
When he was speaking just now the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) said that the League of Nations was a menace to peace because certain Powers—Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States—were outside the League. I will remind him that the situation was precisely the same in 1935, except that Italy was not then outside but was very hostile to the League because she was under sanctions, but that did not prevent the National Government at that time appealing to the country for wholehearted support of the League as the most effective means of preserving peace. We know now that that appeal was a hollow mockery, a trick for winning the election, but I believe the statement was perfectly true. If we are to have peace we must have friends, and the only place where we can find them is among the loyal members of the League of Nations. There is no alternative, and we shall have to come to that position eventually.
He made mention also of Italian sovereignty over Abyssinia. We should seriously put forward the idea in any 117 negotiations that may take place that, under certain conditions, the Emperor of Abyssinia should be allowed still to hold a position in that country. Large territories are not under Italian control, and it would be of very great assistance to Italy to have someone with the immense prestige of the Emperor to maintain order and to keep the people quiet. It may well be that certain sections could be usefully placed under mandate under the Emperor's sovereignty, responsible to the League of Nations in some way. If that were done, it would be helpful to Italy, and would mean that we had played our part in restoring to the Abyssinians that territory to which we have so far contributed only to destroy and betray.
As my right hon. Friend said just now, if there is one thing certain in this House and this country to-night it is that there is rejoicing throughout Fascist countries. We have seen headlines in the papers: "Joy in Germany and Italy." What a humiliating position. The British Foreign Secretary, the most popular man in this country, driven drom office by the dictator; joy all over those countries, and the Government, smug-faced, pleased and delighted, quite glad to see him go, and defending their own position against him. It is a terribly humiliating situation. The late Foreign Secretary made reference in his speech to a matter that has not been followed up so far, although it seems of a grave nature. He indicated that there had been considerable differences during the last few weeks between himself and the Prime Minister, and that in the last few days there had been a difference of considerable gravity, not referring to Italy at all. I presume it referred to what is happening in Austria with regard to Germany. We ought to have some further information about that. There has been a profound difference of opinion once again. May we be told by the Minister who is to reply whether it has reference to what is happening in Germany, or what it is about? It is extremely important. We all want to be quite clear in our minds as to the right policy in the situation in regard to Germany. In view of the fact that it has been referred to by the late Foreign Secretary we are entitled to know specifically to what he was referring.
The issue we are discussing to-day is no matter of procedure but is deep seated and fundamental. It may be put this way: You have on one side the view of 118 the Prime Minister, very sincere but narrow, with pre-war mentality and purely national outlook. On the other hand, you have the view of the late Foreign Secretary who is young and progressive and a passionate supporter of the collective system of the League of Nations. The Prime Minister's point of view seems to be moving back towards the Four-Power Pact. When he was mentioning the three fundamental points of British policy he made no reference to the League of Nations at all. Of course not; it does not enter into the picture, so far as he is concerned. That difference exists not only in the country but in the Conservative party, between those who seriously believe in the League—I know there are many of them—and those who do not. Not long ago I was talking to one hon. Member of the Conservative party and he said: "I do not know much about it, but does it not all come to this, that we have done with the League of Nations for good?" I said: "You have just about hit it off." In what has happened the Government have lost their best political asset and the young people of this country have lost their best friend, and they may well rue the day when that lamentable event happened.
Something has been said about who is to be the new Foreign Secretary and about it being important that he should be in this House. I hope I shall be forgiven, but if that second point means that there is any possibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Home Secretary going back to the Foreign Office, I would vote for Lord Halifax or anybody else. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is an admirable Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was an excellent Home Secretary. I admire his talents immensely, but for heaven's sake do not let him go back to the Foreign Office. I would say the same about the present Home Secretary. He adorns his present office with such grace and ability. It may be that others will be found who can represent the Department in the House of Commons. Reference was made, also, to the question of publishing the communications which passed between the British and Italian Governments in the last few weeks. I hope that they will be published, but we require not only those papers, but notes of the conversations that took place. It may well be that, in the carefully edited diplomatic documents, 119 there is nothing that you could take hold of and say, "This is a threat; this is blackmail." We want to know the conversations that took place—the precise words used in conversation by Count Grandi and the late Foreign Secretary—because I do not think the late Foreign Secretary is a man who would use those words unless he was perfectly convinced that they were true in every respect. No one is in a better position than he to judge of their truth, and it is not enough for the Prime Minister to say that they are untrue, which is practically what it amounted to.
I should like now to say a word about the Prime Minister's, as I think, most lamentable speech. I was speaking afterwards to a very distinguished observer, and he said to me, "That man will lose the British Empire." I venture to think there is some reason to fear that there is a good deal of foundation for that. It was unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman had not even got his history aright. He quoted Nyon as being a great example of the way to negotiate with Italy. It was the precise opposite. It was solely because Italy was not there that that agreement was made. It was made in defiance of Italy, between Great Britain and France and the other friendly countries, and it was only when, some time afterwards, Italy saw that she could not stop it in any way, that she came in. That is the way to negotiate with Italy and countries of that kind. Firmness is required, as the late Foreign Secretary has said.
The Prime Minister made reference to the question of rearmament, and said how regrettable it was that, in order to protect ourselves, we were rearming. He went on to say, as if he were shocked and pained, that the other countries are doing it too. It never seemed to have occurred to him that anybody else might rearm. He said we have all got to go on in order to protect ourselves; we have all got to rearm. Is it not perfectly fantastic? That way leads nowhere. You can get nowhere by a number of purely independent national States arming one against the other. You can only use arms effectively in a collective system. If the Government go on with their present policy, as it has been expressed once again to-night, on purely national 120 lines, we shall reach a stage when we shall meet the dictators enormously increased in strength. Gorged with other little States and pieces of big States, they will turn on us and insist on having those colonies for which Herr Hitler asked once again only yesterday, and we shall be left without a friend to help us, having betrayed and let down all those who might have been our friends. And we shall not only be without a friend in the world, but without even the support of the British Empire. It is clear that Canada, South Africa and perhaps New Zealand, are not prepared to go into the old kind of war one against another, though they would rally loyally to the collective system, as I believe would most of the nations of the world.
It has been clear to my mind for a long time, and is more so than ever now, that, if we do become involved in another war—and the Government are moving us surely in that direction—we shall be a deeply divided nation. We cannot succeed as a deeply divided nation, and we shall go down. We shall be more divided than ever after the events of yesterday and to-day. I believe that unity can still be obtained. There is a policy that would rally the great mass of the nation behind it, and give courage and support to any Government that might be in office. I would express the hope that in the next few weeks, which may be so pregnant, it may be possible for all those in all parties who see that the only hope for the future lies in collective defence, to join together and form a national policy with the backing of the whole country.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. De Chair
I have no hesitation in rising to support most whole-heartedly and enthusiastically the attitude in foreign affairs which the Prime Minister has inaugurated to-day. I say "inaugurated," because, although we may all feel sad at the melancholy event of a Foreign Secretary's resignation, no one can deny that the events of this week mark a parting of the ways in Europe. The course of the Debate this afternoon of itself indicates that, and here I would like to offer a word of caution, not to the House, because the House already knows it, but, if I felt that any word of mine could pass beyond this House, it would be that it should be recognised that there have been for a 121 long time two quite distinct elements in the Conservative party in the House. There has been the element represented, if I may say so without offence, by the Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl), the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams), to a less extent by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson), and by others who think like them, who want us to fight all comers—in support of Austria, Czechoslovakia, the Negus, Chiang KaiShek, and every cause of that description in the world. The other element, which is less vocal but much more sound and very much larger, believes whole-heartedly in the common-sense attitude of the Prime Minister in his approach to foreign affairs.
I have listened to this Debate with some surprise. I must say that I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), because it was an honest, candid, vigorous speech in defence of what he considered to be right. It proved conclusively that, if the party of which he is a Member were in power, we should now be at war with the Fascist States. He exclaimed against the Fascist States, and admitted quite candidly that he wanted to remain content with the alliance of Russia and the Third International. He said that the Spanish war would have been over now but for the intervention of Mussolini's troops. I would say to him that Madrid would have fallen at the coming of Franco's troops but for the intervention of the International Column, which saved Madrid. That is a well recognised fact, and, therefore, it is idle for the hon. Member to lay the blame at the door of Signor Mussolini alone.
He pointed out, quite rightly, that there is in the country a great body of opinion which clings to the League of Nations and supports the idea of the League of Nations. The Prime Minister in his speech this afternoon said that we still believe in the League of Nations. [Interruption.] I am not afraid to face that challenge, and I am going to explain exactly where I and others who think like me stand with regard to this question of the League of Nations. We believe in the League of Nations in the long run, but we do not believe that the League is effective, or could be effective, in this particular crisis—and we have to deal with a crisis. We are dealing with a League which is boycotted by two of the 122 great armed nations, who would have nothing to do with any policy that emanated from Geneva. In these circumstances it is idle to talk of discussion at Geneva or of bringing about a settlement in Europe through collective security.
I hold the belief which was expressed by Lord Lothian, who is still a member of the Liberal Opposition party, in a series of articles in a newspaper published in Norfolk. He outlined what he believed the reform of the League should be. He pointed out—and this is a Liberal opinion—that the League of Nations should be reformed by removing from the Covenant the compulsory sanctions Clauses, so that it could have a much wider and more universal basis and all nations could ultimately belong to it. He expressed the belief that a League so reconstituted could in the future have great prestige and authority in maintaining peace. But it can not be expected, after the blow it received in Abyssinia, to come to the rescue of Europe in the present emergency. The hon. Member for Llanelly paid great attention to the statement thrown out by the late Foreign Secretary, that we were faced with a threat of "now or never." He seemed to think that the Prime Minister's denial that there had been any threat of that kind, was inconclusive.
Listening to the Prime Minister, the feeling I had was that it was in the Prime Minister's mind that the time was now or never; that the course of Anglo-Italian relations revealed that an opportunity had arisen for friendly negotiation of a settlement, and that it would be a cynical disregard of the interests of this country and a crime against civilisation if that opportunity were allowed to pass. There was no pistol held at our head; there was no threat, other than the threat of a lost opportunity. And there is an ancient saying that there are three things which never return "The Spoken Word, The Sped Arrow and The Lost Opportunity." He also made some play with the fact that the Prime Minister, when he spoke of a pact, made no allusion to Russia; but the Prime Minister was concerned with the fact that peace should be guaranteed in Western Europe first. One wonders what hon. Members opposite think of Comrade Stalin's remark last week, when he said that the 123 victory of Socialism would not be complete until the proletariat of all countries were united against the bourgeoisie.
The hon. Member for West Leicester spoke with all the eloquence of the old diplomacy. I could not help smiling, because, for two years, I endeavoured to groom myself up to that old diplomacy, and to prepare myself for entering the diplomatic service. [An HON. MEMBER: "You made a mess of it!"] Yes, I think I should have done so, because, before I put myself to the final test, I decided to try to enter a House like this, where common sense prevails, rather than the old type of diplomatic niceties. I could not help thinking of the sort of mentality I came across in my exploration into the field of diplomacy, and the type of conversation I used to hear. If I might be allowed to caricature, this was the sort of conversation one used to hear: "What, not be in the next big war! After all the trouble we have taken to bring it along! Why, this war is the pet hothouse plant of the diplomatic service. We watered it in 1919, pruned it in the invasion of the Ruhr, and"—
§ Mr. De Chair
I said, if I might be allowed to caricature the mind of the old diplomacy, which is a very polished product. I maintain that that was their attitude to the question of the world war. I do not suggest that I am referring to the Foreign Office in particular. I am referring to the old diplomacy, of which the hon. Member for West Leicester was advocating the charms this afternoon. Then he spoke of the dangers of a loan to Italy, because, he said, we should be bolstering up a system which was on the verge of financial collapse. Shades of Pitt, when he said at the beginning of the French War, "They cannot last another week"; and then the war went on for 22 years. The hon. Member spoke of tourists as invisible exports to Italy. We have seen tourists to other countries, and I do not think you can speak of them in connection with one country more than another. The hon. Member tried to draw the most terrible indictment against the good faith of Italy. In particular, he referred to 124 the Triple Alliance which Italy had entered into with the Central Powers, and said that as soon as war broke out Italy scrapped that treaty and came in with the Allies. The hon. Member must have known that in that treaty there was the reservation that Italy should not enter into any action which would prejudice her relations with Britain. Then there was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), who said that the dictators had been given the late Foreign Secretary's head on a charger. If that is so, the late Foreign Secretary put his own head on the block.
§ Mr. De Chair
No, I think it was the late Foreign Secretary's misfortune to hold the point of view which regarded with profound suspicion the motives of two large Powers in Europe. I cannot feel that he was right, and I think that his resignation, regrettable though it is, will create a different atmosphere in Europe—an atmosphere conducive to peace. Several speakers have referred to the concentration of troops in Libya, but the Prime Minister explained perfectly clearly—and I am sure every sensible person who has travelled in Italy or other places abroad will realise the sense of his explanation—that that is inspired by fear of us. It was felt that we were preparing for revenge over Abyssinia; and we must not forget that the Italians regard us as a great and mighty Power, and do not see behind us merely the 40,000,000 that there are in Italy, or the 70,000,000 in Germany, but the 500,000,000 people that there are in the British Empire. It may be a misunderstanding, but it is one that we can appreciate, that they should feel that the British Empire harbours resentment against them; and they have concentrated their troops accordingly.
There have been taunts thrown out that we shall lose votes because of the late Foreign Secretary's resignation. Perhaps we shall, but it is better to lose a few votes and maintain peace in Europe for a generation than simply to think of the political action that has been taken. If I thought that a thing was going to preserve peace, I would willingly face political extinction. We have seen Europe arming for destruction and drifting into two hostile camps. From opposing 125 towers mighty military nations hurl defiance at one another. What does this all mean? Everyone wants something, yet no one wants war. Somewhere there must be a residual pool of peace which everybody would accept rather than resort to war. The Prime Minister has set out in quest of that residual pool of peace, and I am confident that he will find it.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I think that the Prime Minister must have come down to the House this afternoon with some apprehensions about the course of the Debate, and I am not sure that these apprehensions will be removed when he reads to-morrow that he has the support of the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair), who has just sat down after making a speech which contains an attack upon the Old Diplomacy which the hon. Gentleman would find himself quite unable to support. The Prime Minister would, perhaps, prefer the support of the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson) to that of the hon. Member who attacked him.
§ Mr. De Chair rose—
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I think we may leave the speech in the words of that proverb which the hon. Member quoted, that "the spoken word never returns," and we must hope for his own sake that that proverb is true. I have been reflecting over the fate which has attended recent Conservative Foreign Secretaries. There was the late Sir Austen Chamber-lain. After some years of his enjoying that office, his majority fell even in his home town of Birmingham, to 47. Then there was the present Chancellor of the Exchequer who held the office, and as a result of what he did his majority fell to just over 600, and at the present moment he is seeking a safer seat. Then there is the present Home Secretary whom we remember seeing blasted out of his office by the unanimous expression of public opinion in, this country, and to-day we have really, I think, touched the depths of degradation in watching the Foreign Secretary lay down his office at the dictate of Signor Mussolini. Being a Foreign Secretary in this Government has become what they call a dangerous occupation. It reminds me of a line from "The Golden Bough": 126The priest who is the slayer who shall himself be slain.Something has been said about who is to be the next Foreign Secretary. I think that a point of much more interest is to speculate on the circumstances in which he will fall and leave office in the future as a result probably of the Italian conversations he will be responsible for. I dare say that the late Foreign Secretary may have been a little embarrassed this afternoon by the warmth of his reception from the Opposition. There is always joy over a repentant sinner, but I believe that the joy is generally felt in Heaven, and not by the sinner himself. But certainly his speech, line for line, and word for word was a confirmation of what speakers from these benches have been saying for over two years, and which the late Foreign Secretary refused to accept at the time. He summed it all up this afternoon when he said that "we must always be ready to negotiate provided that by so doing we strengthen and do not undermine the basis of international confidence." That is what we have always said, and it is what the late Foreign Secretary himself says in the moment of his defeat, and it is an axiom which his Prime Minister and the party beside him refuse to accept.
I think that we all felt great admiration this afternoon for a brave speech made at a moment of very bitter disappointment indeed. As to his resignation it is said that the hall-mark of a good politician is to know the right moment to resign. Time alone will show if the late Foreign Secretary has that wisdom, or if repentance in his case has come too late. The speech of the Prime Minister, to which I listened with great attention, entirely failed to tell us what this country can hope to get out of these conversations or why he believes that Italy sincerely wants to be friends at this moment, or on what grounds he thinks that Italy can really be trusted, or why this is a good time to hold these conversations. No information of any sort was given to us on these important points. I thought that the speech was received rather quietly by the benches behind the Prime Minister, and also that it showed a very imperfect appreciation of those essential fundamental matters which lie behind foreign policy and foreign politics.
For instance, I was astounded to hear the Prime Minister speak about a vendetta between this country and Italy. It 127 takes two to carry on a vendetta. The Prime Minister should give us some information as to who has been carrying on the vendetta in this country. Is it an accusation that he is levelling against his late Foreign Secretary? We know the malevolence with which the right hon. Gentleman has been pursued in Italy. Does the Prime Minister suggest that ho has ever retorted in kind? Why is this word "vendetta" used? Why this long story about the fantastic conceptions of this country and our intentions which exists in Rome, and which are brought forward as an excuse for these negotiations? If that fantastic story were true, it would be a reflection upon the Italian Ambassador in this country for having failed to make clear to the head of the Italian Government the real temper and spirit of this country where Italy is concerned. Is it the case that the Italian Ambassador reports only those things which he thinks will be well received by the head of the Italian Government and keeps him in ignorance of the true state of feeling here? That may be the case. One of the misfortunes of a dictator is that he becomes surrounded by "yes-men" in fear of losing their jobs if they say anything unpalatable to the great man. The Prime Minister's account of the Nyon Agreement was a travesty of the fact twisted to help him in bolstering up his own case. A passage which particularly attracted my attention was that in which he said that the recognition of Italian aggression in Abyssinia would only be morally justifiable if part of a general appeasement. Is Abyssinia to share in that general appeasement? What is she, the victim, to get out of it? As far as I can make out, the general appeasement will be one in which we shall find our vicarious salvation out of the massacre of the Abyssinians.
As to the Prime Minister's statement that he knew only two or three days ago that there were really any serious differences of opinion between the late Foreign Secretary and himself, I think that that is very disingenuous. The Prime Minister always denied any differences of opinion between himself and the late Foreign Secretary, and he and the late Foreign Secretary always denied any report of Italians troops landing in Spain, and one denial seems to have been about as true as the other. All I can say is that if 128 differences of opinion which have always existed have not been apparent to the Prime Minister, then he is singularly lacking in the insight which is necessary in a Prime Minister. The differences of opinion between the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman have always been there and have always been obvious. The two men and their ideas are mutually incompatible, and the end was bound to come. The Foreign Secretary has been discarded after he has served his turn. The Prime Minister will brook no opposition to his own ideas of foreign policy. He requires a "yes-man" as much as Signor Mussolini does.
The late Foreign Secretary has been engineered out of office after weeks and months during which Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini have been plastering him with abuse. His resignation was announced on the very day that Hen-Hitler attacked him in his Reichstag speech. By what happened yesterday the Prime Minister and the Cabinet have given the Italian newsboys the best day that they have had since I heard them crying for hour after hour the "Glorious Italian victory at Santander." I hope the people of this country will recognise the depth of degradation to which we have fallen when the British Foreign Secretary is forced out of office by the manoeuvres and at the dictates of the Ruler of a foreign country. The only comparison with it is what happened to Dr. Schussnigg the other day at the hands of Herr Hitler when he was put into a room with three generals next door, and told what to do. Here is the Foreign Secretary put into a room with Count Grandi next door, and the Foreign Secretary has to go and the Italian Ambassador remains licking his lips at what will stand him in great good stead with his Dictator.
The Prime Minister is making a great error in what he is doing. Like all bad business men, he is yearning and striving after quick returns. He despises the patient spade-work and the adherence to principle which are necessary in diplomatic negotiations. If our objective is peace, can the Prime Minister point to one peaceful action by Signor Mussolini or one action which he has taken leading to peace? Our quarrel is not with the Italian people. I do not think there is any misunderstanding of Italy by this country. I think we understand the 129 Italians very well, and some of us also understand Signor Mussolini very well. The trouble is that, in support of the policy which is leading the Italian people to catastrophe, Signor Mussolini systematically teaches the Italian people to misunderstand Great Britain. That is where the misunderstanding is between the two countries. His speeches all aim at that purpose, but they come only occasionally.
The real mischief is done by the Press, which Signor Mussolini inspires and directs. Under his direction the Press is systematically used to breed hatred and distrust of this country based on lies. If the Italian people knew of this, if they knew how their Prime Minister has been pilloried week after week in this House for lies and misrepresentations, and that he has never been able to instruct his Ambassador to bring any evidence to support a protest against that pillorying, if they understood that they would not feel proud of their Prime Minister. But the truth is that they do now know, although they will have to pay the bill which Signor Mussolini is running up for them. Traveller after traveller returning to this country writes to the newspapers to tell of the friendliness, helpfulness and courtesy received during their travels from Italians; but an adventurer, who has deprived the Italians of every form of freedom, prevents these natural instincts of theirs from having their natural result in good feeling and good fellowship between our two countries.
What is it that is in the mind of the Prime Minister in initiating these conversations? Does he propose to do a deal with Italy on the basis of such promises as we have had from the Italian representative on the Non-intervention Committee? I prefer these words:There must be no sacrifice of principles merely to obtain quick results.A few days ago the Conservative party were quoting and cheering those words of the Foreign Secretary and using them at a by-election. They are the words of the Foreign Secretary who has now been discarded to secure conversations with a man who has no principles at all. Is there to be a loan emerging from these conversations in return for a renewal of what is called "friendship" and a cessation of anti-British propaganda? Does anyone think that any agreement that may be reached will be respected by the head of the Italian Government when the 130 moment comes and when he thinks that to break it would be to his advantage—if he can do it with impunity?
We have heard a good deal to-day about the Anglo-Italian Agreement of last February. Has anyone noticed, since that agreement was concluded, any gratitude, any faithfulness, any common honesty in the policy that Italy has pursued towards this country? What can Signor Mussolini point to that would lead us to expect any more honourable treatment at his hands that Abyssinia received? Is there anything in the work of the Non-intervention Committee to lead us to believe in Italian good faith? Signor Mussolini is busy trying to build an Empire out of lath and plaster. He is not in the least interested in those ideals of tranquillity, peace, stability and decency which interest us in this country. There are ideals of international cooperation and community in the political life of this country which find voice among our politicians, but they excite only gutter abuse from Signor Mussolini whose only idea of Government is tyranny at home and aggression abroad.
What is there in the European situation to encourage hope from these conversations? It may well be that, defeated on the Brenner, Signor Mussolini will redouble his efforts in Spain and to dominate the Mediterranean. In that case his relations with this country and France can only worsen. It is all to the advantage of Herr Hitler that tension in the Mediterranean should increase and thereby weaken France and ourselves where Germany is concerned. Must we not assume that Italian acquiescence about Austria has yet to be paid for by Germany? If that is the case, where can Germany make payment except in the Mediterranean? Let us note what Herr Hitler said yesterday in his speech, about "tolerating no Bolshevisation of Spain," where in fact no Bolshevism exists. When we put these things together, can we expect for a moment that Italy intends to withdraw from Spain or to slacken her pace in the Mediterranean?
The late Foreign Secretary knew these things and knew that they were true. The Prime Minister refuses to listen and has thrown away every one of his cards before he begins to play. Not only that, he chooses to negotiate at a moment of great weakness for Italy, when we could well afford to let the head of the Italian 131 Government stew in his own juice a little time in order to find out where events are taking him. Libya, Abyssinia, Spain, the Brenner, are all sources of weakness for him. He is now Hitler's yes-man. He will be sent for one of these days, just as Schuschnigg was sent for to be told Hitler's decisions about the 350,000 Germans who live in the Southern Tyrol. That is what he has to look forward to.
People talk about Signor Mussolini having sold out in Austria; he has not sold out, he has been cleared out. Herr Hitler would never have dared to do that unless he had known the weakness of Italy as a result of the adventures in Spain and Africa. Those happy days—when Italy could mobilise men on the Brenner in order to keep the Nazis out of Austria are gone for ever.Never glad confident morning again.Germany is now on the Brenner for good or ill. Signor Mussolini's friends seem to fare rather ill, if we are to judge by what has happened in Austria; and we choose this moment to ask for his friendship. How can you make friends with a man whose only principle in politics is opportunism and who recognises no other principle at all? After flattering him and fooling him in the Brenner Hen-Hitler has cleared Signor Mussolini out of Central Europe, and now when Germany has got what she wants will she help Italy to get what Italy wants? It is clear that neither of the two dictators knows what good faith is. Each has tried to double-cross the other, and Herr Hitler has won.
The result of all these events is that the Berlin-Rome axis is a little bit short, as it has been put to me, of ball bearings. Signor Mussolini cannot complain of having been double-crossed without revealing to the Italians that, contrary to the Italian creed, Mussolini is not always right; and where would he be if they once began to find that out? All he can do is to go home and sulk and not answer the telephone when Dr. Schuschnigg rings him up. Life is very difficult for him. Herr Hitler has tricked him; Franco does not win; the Italian internal situation gets worse, money is short, so he becomes conciliatory and we obligingly offer these conversations. We ought to have tangible proof of good will before we go any distance to meet him. Another and very important reason for 132 going slow is that we ought to find out if Germany has given any undertaking in the Mediterranean in return for Italian compliance about Austria. Time alone can show that, but we should find that out before we go any further.
One word in conclusion about France. Where do we stand in regard to France in this matter? The Prime Minister this afternoon said that we are "linked to France by common ideals." Did we consult France about the proposal to hold these conversations? France is vitally concerned about the threat of Italy and Germany to her Pyrenees frontier, yet we start these conversations at a time when France is asking us to take a strong line with her. I read this in the "Figaro":It is a good thing that France and England are united, but if their joint ideas simply consist in not having any at all, this association of the two strongest Powers in the world is like a mountain giving birth to a mouse.That is the pertinent French comment, while the Prime Minister's Press is say-in that these events have clarified and consolidated the situation in Europe.
The Prime Minister has not told us what he hopes to get; has given no reasons for believing that any agreement will be valuable or kept, and no reasons whatever for losing his Foreign Secretary at the instance of a foreign Government. This is a fateful day for this country. We are departing from the path of honour to-day. The Prime Minister has initiated a policy which we shall bitterly regret. All that he can get out of it is an agreement with a man who makes it his boast that he does not keep agreements when they are no longer useful to him. The issue cannot be decided in the House; with the big battalions behind the Government we are voted down, but the issue will be decided in the country. We on these benches will carry the fight into the country and ask for an endorsement of the views which we hold and which we believe are the views held by the vast majority of our fellow men and women over this transaction. We shall tell them that it is time to cease running after dictators and time that we made friends with those who hold the same views on peace and international decency as we do. It is time to try and recreate the policy of collective security which only can give us that security which no rearmament or negotiation with a dictator can ever give.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) has given us a very picturesque account of the situation. It seems to me that this is really a clash between two conceptions as to the conduct of foreign affairs. The clash between the Prime Minister and the former Foreign Secretary fills me with a sense of calamity. In my view it was a serious day when the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) resigned his great office. If I may put these two conceptions to the House, I would say, on the one hand, that there are those who believe that the nation's spirit still remains as strong and as resolute as it has ever been in the past, that her fundamental power is undiminished, that she should stand firmly by her obligations and by her friends, that she should always pursue a policy of peace but pursue it with calmness and resolution, not with undue haste, so that she may not find herself in the position of having to take panicky measures. That is the only way she will keep her friends and maintain her ideals. This is the policy which the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington has attempted to pursue in circumstances of almost overwhelming difficulty.
There is the other policy, the policy which, I believe, is summed up in everything that appertains to the mission of Lord Halifax to Germany. The Halifax mission, to my mind, was the dividing line. It caused me great anxiety and made me feel that this division might take place. Hon. Members will remember the circumstances. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington made a speech in this House on a Monday, a speech which is still remembered, and will be remembered for a long time by hon. Members, and he left for Brussels, and in the course of a day or two Lord Halifax left for Germany. It has been said this afternoon by the Prime Minister—and it is a view frequently expressed, but it is not correct—that the Halifax mission was the first effort made on the part of this Government to enter into conversations with Germany. There is a document issued by the Government itself called "Correspondence Showing the Course of Certain Diplomatic Discussions directed towards a European Settlement, June, 1934, to March, 1936." If 134 hon. Members will study that document they will see that every effort was made to establish contact with the German Government. And then the Prime Minister seems to have forgotten that Baron von Neurath was asked to this country only a few months before Lord Halifax was dispatched to Berlin.
The Halifax mission gives me the impression of an effort which was hurried, ill-thought-out and unprepared. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has poured considerable scorn this afternoon on old methods of diplomacy. They have been well-tried methods in the past, and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman when he is setting forth on this course that at one time, now nearly 20 years ago, there was what was known as the Garden Suburb behind Downing Street where the secretaries of the Prime Minister conducted a policy of their own, and that Garden Suburb gave birth to the Treaty of Versailles. The hurried journey of the Lord President to Germany has clearly been a definite failure. If anybody has any doubt on this point let him read the loud and mocking speech of Herr Hitler before he even crossed the borders of Germany. And we know that that mission was a failure. If it had been a success, surely we should have known what happened; the Government would not have hidden its light under a bushel.
But that mission did one thing; it caused great alarm and despondency among all our friends throughout Europe. It became necessary for the French Ministers to visit London to be reassured in regard to the attitude of the British Government. It may—I do not say it did; it would be unfair to say that—it may have precipitated the crisis which has happened in Austria. It certainly has weakened our position in Europe; it certainly has given the impression in Germany that we are anxious to run after Germany whenever we have an opportunity. If this is to be the policy pursued by the Government after the resignation of the Foreign Secretary, then I believe that precipitate action will lead us into very dangerous places. I hope they will not lead us into disaster.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington in his speech to-day, repeating what he said at Birmingham only ten days ago, said that he was most anxious to come to terms 135 with Germany, and with Italy if possible, but he also pointed out that he knew he could get no result by undignified and panicky methods. In peace time, it has been said that diplomacy is the first line. On this day when my right hon. Friend has resigned I would ask hon. Members to remember the circumstances and the conditions of that first line when he was called upon to undertake the task of holding it and reconstructing it. They will remember it was smashed up, and they will remember the circumstances. The Government still contains members whose stewardship made it their duty to see that that line was maintained. Moreover my right hon. Friend assumed his task at a time of great difficulty so far as rearmament was concerned. He set about to pursue a steady, consistent and courageous policy in spite of the fact that our armaments were so low. Let it be remembered by this House this day when he has fallen that he, a newcomer to the Cabinet, had no responsibility for the fact that armaments had sunk so low; and yet Members who are in the Cabinet to-day have a very grave responsibility.
"Peace in our time" is an admirable sentiment provided it applies to all of us, but it cannot be obtained by taking the short view. My right hon. Friend, I firmly believe, represents a most resolute and anti-defeatist opinion in this country. He speaks, I believe, with the authentic voice of the people. It is clear to all that there is, and can be, no short cut, no easy way out of the present difficulties. Whatever action the Government take, or whatever policy they may pursue, will only underline more clearly than ever this fundamental truth.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Emrys-Evans) has made a very gallant and moving defence of the late Foreign Secretary which we all must admire. He has also succeeded incidentally in gaining the applause of the Opposition, which I should have thought was not quite so acceptable to my hon. Friend. But, listening to his speech very carefully, I did not gather from it one constructive thought for the betterment of world conditions in the future, and I must say that substantially the same thing is true of the speech of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) 136 who spoke for the Opposition Liberals. It contained a good deal of criticism but not one single suggestion that could be helpful in the solution of world problems. I contend that on this critical day it is the duty of all Members in this House, at any rate, to attempt to make a constructive contribution in a very difficult situation.
I came to this Debate as a very great personal admirer of the late Foreign Secretary. He is of my own generation. He and I joined the Army about the same month. I have many things in common with him, and I came to-day rather sympathetic to his point of view, but I am bound to say that, if one sets aside the purely sentimental feeling that one may well have, the balance of solid, cold reasoning definitely lies with the Government to-day. I have as much right as hon. Members opposite to make the further statement that, after perhaps a day or two of excitement, the whole country will be on the same side. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never."] If hop. Members will permit me—
I can answer the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I have been to Fife more recently than he has, for I was there on Friday and Saturday last, talking about these very problems, and I am certain that in that part of Scotland, which is very typical of Scottish opinion, on reflection, with all their disappointment, sorrow and regret, they will realise that in the circumstances there was no alternative to the Prime Minister's action. There has been a good deal of confusion in the thought and exposition of hon. Members who have been critical of the Government. For example, the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson) started off by saying that, of course, he was in favour of talks with Italy, and then he proceeded to adduce an argument the whole purpose of which, I thought, was to show that it was useless, impossible and wrong to have any discussions with Italy. That, indeed, has been the course of the argument of nearly every critic of the Government. They begin by paying lip service to talks. They say, "Of course, let us have talks; we do not care what kind of government there is in the foreign country; certainly, let us negotiate with it." Then 137 they proceed to "slang" that Government and suggest to the House that it is a waste of time to have any talks. What did the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) say to the House? He said, "Are you going to negotiate with murderers?" What does that mean if it does not mean that there shall be no negotiations with Italy? For my part, like the late Foreign Secretary, I went through the War. I do not know whether he was wounded, but I was, and so were many of my best friends. I am frank to the House when I say that I would sacrifice very nearly everything, except honour, to avoid another war.
What is the present situation? What are the only factors of danger in Europe to-day? Not Russia, not France, not Switzerland or Sweden. There are only two dangers to the peace of the world to-day: Germany and Italy. If those two dangers could be removed, we might have a generation of peace. Certainly, the Government have tried to do that. My right hon. Friend the late Foreign Secretary tried, with all the energy of youth, to make an agreement with Germany. There was the Halifax mission, which was hailed by all the Members of the House, including hon. Members opposite, as a great gesture for peace. It was hailed as being the right line to take—negotiation, meeting, consultation, seeking an agreement. Hon. Members opposite are constantly condemning the Government for failing to take action. The Government took constructive peace action; it was not as successful as we would have hoped; but the gesture was regarded as a good one by the country.
To-day, we are in the situation that Italy came to us. The House has not observed sufficiently the Prime Minister's disclosure that in this case the initiative came from Count Grandi and not from us. It was he who came and asked for the opening of new negotiations. If the Government had turned a deaf ear to that plea and had announced to the House that for one reason or another they had refused that invitation, would there not have been from the benches opposite jeers that we had not taken advantage of a great opportunity? Had the Government failed to take that opportunity to open conversations, it would have been regarded properly in the country as a crime. Much as I, personally, dislike some, if not nearly all, of the actions of the Italian 138 Government recently, much as I hate the bloody aggression which they have carried out, I love my country and its peace, and when there is this opportunity—it may not be a great chance, it may fail, but it is an opportunity—to gain some years' breathing time, then I say the country is behind the Government in seizing that opportunity. Much as we regret the resignation of my right hon. Friend, if in the end that proves to be the removal of the stumbling block to peace in Europe, then my right hon. Friend may have taken a great and a noble course in the national interests.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Colonel Nathan
Notwithstanding what has been said by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), I am satisfied that hon. Members in every part of the House received the news of the resignation of the late Foreign Secretary with a feeling of shocked surprise. I am confident, too, that the same shock of surprise, to an equal or even greater degree, affected the minds of millions of men and women, irrespective of party, in every part of the country, for in a very exceptional degree the late Foreign Secretary represented to the public of this country, broadly speaking, more than any other Minister, a national policy. I believe that in the estimation of the people of this country he was the only statesman who could properly be called a national statesman representing a national policy.
It was not that in all respects and at all times there was complete agreement either as to the policy which he pursued or the manner in which he pursued it, but deep down and fundamentally in the minds of the people of the country there was, and is, the belief that the late Foreign Secretary was pursuing in all his policy certain definite principles which, whatever differences of opinion there may have been amongst us as to their application, were in accord with the common will and the desire of the people of this country as a whole. We shall regret the loss of the right hon. Gentleman from his high office as meaning the loss of one who was, perhaps on more occasions than any other Member of the Government sitting on the Front Bench, able to speak the mind of the nation in great affairs.
It is a curious commentary upon the conduct of these great international affairs by this Government that within a 139 period of a little more than two years, two Foreign Secretaries have sat in that historic corner seat and have risen to make explanations to this honourable House of the reason for their leaving the Government. It is a curious and memorable fact that in both instances the occasion has arisen out of transactions or proposed transactions with Italy. In the earlier case, when the present Home Secretary rose from that corner seat to explain his resignation from the office of Foreign Secretary, it was because he had not of his own accord I think, but at the request of the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It was on the ground that, contrary to public opinion, he had been prepared to concede too much to Italy. That was two years ago. To-day, it would not be out of accord with the position as it has been explained to the House, to say that the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the same corner seat to-day has resigned from the Government because he is not prepared to concede as much to Italy as his colleagues would concede. It is a tragic situation in which we find ourselves, and it is not a happy memory that within such a short time two Foreign Secretaries should have found it necessary to resign from the National Government on account of the situation in relation to Italy.
When the late Foreign Secretary was speaking this afternoon I wondered, as many other hon. Members must have wondered, who would be his successor in that high and responsible office. I glanced along the Treasury Bench and in my own mind I canvassed, as other hon. Members must have done, who among the occupants of that Bench was likely to command public support and public confidence in that high office at this important stage in our affairs, in anything like the same degree as the right hon. Gentleman who has just resigned. I am bound to say frankly that the impression made upon my mind, and, I doubt not, upon the minds of other hon. Members, was that there was not one right hon. Gentleman on that Treasury Bench who would command the confidence of the country in that high office at this grave juncture. It has been suggested, I know not whether with or without responsible authority, that the next Foreign Secretary may be in another place. I profoundly hope that that suggestion will prove to be ill-founded. It is of the first 140 importance that the spokesman of the Government in these grave matters should be in the House of Commons; that he should present the policy of the Government to this House and personally answer the requirements of the House for information.
There seems to have grown up recently a new constitutional practice. It is, of course, not unknown in our political history for the Prime Minister to hold the office of Foreign Secretary. It was so in the late Lord Salisbury's time and it was so in the case of the late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. In the latter case, at all events, in those strenuous times, whatever may have been the case in the earlier age of Lord Salisbury, the burden proved too great and the experiment was unsatisfactory. It would be interesting to know whether the Prime Minister himself proposes to undertake the duties of Foreign Secretary. I make bold to say that whatever differences may exist on questions of policy or principle among Members on the Government Front Bench the Prime Minister alone would carry in this House the authority necessary for a Foreign Secretary. But while it is clear that under our constitutional practice the Prime Minister must always be closely in contact with foreign affairs, it is important to know where the dividing line is drawn between the responsibility of a Prime Minister and the responsibility of a Foreign Secretary. There could be no position more unsatisfactory to this House and to Governments abroad than that of not knowing with whom one is dealing as the responsible spokesman of the Government in these matters.
Perhaps I may interrupt myself to say this. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do not give way."] It is better to interrupt oneself than to be interrupted by others. In the previous case of a Foreign Secretary's resignation, it was the resigning Foreign Secretary who was on the defensive. No one could listen to to-day's Debate without having it clearly impressed on his mind, that in this case the Government have been on the defensive. The tenour of the Prime Minister's speech and the course of the Debate have shown that. I have seldom heard a Minister speak from that Box who seemed as uncomfortable and uneasy as the Prime Minister to-day. Why was he so uneasy and so uncomfortable? Why was it that before any attack was made upon him, before there was 141 even any talk of an attack upon him, he told the House that he was sure that his action and his speech would be misrepresented, and besought the House that that might not be so. The policy of His Majesty's Government in matters of this kind should be such as to be incapable of mirepresentation. I say, for my own part, that there is no necessity for any hon. Member, however misguided or ill-inclined, to attempt to misrepresent the speech of the Prime Minister to-day. All such a Member has to do is to print that speech and circulate it in his constituency. In that speech is the condemnation of the Government's attitude and conduct in this matter. The speech carries its own condemnation.
I should like to know, and I am sure the country would like to know, not only the circumstances in which the suggested conversations are to be conducted, but the content of the conversations. What exactly has the Prime Minister in mind as the subjects which he or the new Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, will discuss with Signor Mussolini or Count Grandi in Rome? We know what the objective of the Government is. It is an objective common to all parties—peace and friendship. But what are the means by which the Government propose to achieve that end? What proposals are they prepared to make to Signor Mussolini? What concessions are they prepared to make, and equally what proposals do they expect and what concessions do they require? I do not know whether hon. Members read an article in one of the Sunday papers yesterday by a journalist who is currently reported to be the mouthpiece of Signor Mussolini—an article published on the very day of the Foreign Secretary's resignation. Do the Government accept the requirements of Signor Mussolini, as set forth in that article? According to it, he has abated nothing of his original requirements, and the article sought but to explain them and make them good to the British people.
§ Colonel Nathan
The "Weekly Dispatch." The right hon. Gentleman said that he was inviting the British Ambassador to come here from Rome in order that the Government might be satisfied that he was fully informed as to the mind of the Government on these matters. It is, of course, essential that 142 the Ambassador who is to conduct those conversations should know what is in the mind of the Government. It is equally important that this House should know what is in the mind of the Government, and upon that subject there has been complete silence. I invite whoever may reply for the Government to tell us, if he can and may, exactly what it is that is in the mind of the Government, and actually what it is that they are going to instruct the British Ambassador as to what is in their mind.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I think we all sympathise with the late Foreign Secretary who is deservedly popular and respected by all Members in this House, and I think also that we would all wish to see him, now that he has laid down his arduous office, take a rest and be restored to health and strength. But, having listened to his speech and to the Prime Minister's speech, I for one, think that the late Foreign Secretary has made on this occasion a profound mistake, which I think the country as a whole, on fuller consideration, will also realise. The Prime Minister said that he was sure he would be misrepresented, and that prophecy has already come true. The Leader of the Opposition, in a speech which I thought, whatever it might do in this country, would certainly not aid the cause of good fellowship and good feeling abroad, which cause he always professes to believe in, said he wanted to see in this country a "decent peace policy," one that meant "co-operation with all; dictation from none"; and then the whole of the Socialist Benches abused the Prime Minister for endeavouring to co-operate with Italy. I fully agree that we want a decent peace policy and cooperation with all, and that is what, so far as I understand it, the Prime Minister is endeavouring to secure. We must maintain peace, and, after all, if we do want peace in Europe, we have got to learn how to live with the other nations that are in Europe, we have to take them as we find them and to make the best of them. We may not agree with their methods of government, we may not agree with their policies, we may dislike and deplore a great deal of what they have done and are doing, but if, because of this, we refuse to meet them and to converse with them, how can we hope to persuade them to our way of thinking?
143 I think we should remind ourselves that the alternative to friendship is enmity and that the alternative to neighbourliness is a quarrel. If the Prime Minister can get the settlement that he is after, a settlement of Anglo-Italian questions, which will allay the suspicions and the enmity now existing, I would say that he is half way to an Anglo-German agreement as well, and if he can get that, then the fears of war will be swept away for a generation. But if, as the Socialists would have us, we were to rebuff the Italian invitation, if we were to stand on our dignity, and to refuse to discuss and negotiate with them, we should increase the present bitterness and suspicion and automatically and inevitably increase the risk of war. When I think of the women of my constituency who, if war came, would have to send their husbands and their sons to fight while they stayed at home, in nearly as much danger as they through bombing from the air, I would merely say to the Prime Minister, "God speed you with your work, and may the settlement that you make be satisfactory and lead to enduring peace."
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Spears
I am going to ask respectfully for enlightenment on only one point. When, in his speech this afternoon, the Prime Minister informed us that Count Grandi came this morning to see him, stating that he was authorised to say that the Italian Government were prepared to discuss the withdrawal of volunteers in Spain, which must mean in effect, if words have any meaning, that he was prepared to negotiate measures which would bring to an end active operations in that country, there was a good deal of feeling in the House, because it seemed to this House that the Italian Government were so pleased at the news that the Foreign Secretary had resigned, that they had sent their Ambassador hot foot to say that he was prepared to discuss with us the withdrawal of volunteers. I think the Prime Minister must have thought the same thing, because he said he had put that question to Count Grandi, who had said that he had received his orders not this morning, but yesterday morning, when the ex-Foreign Secretary was still in office.
But Herr Hitler had not made his speech yesterday morning. He made his 144 speech starting at one o'clock, that is, after Count Grandi had received his orders from Rome; and Herr Hitler, speaking yesterday, stated that he was in entire agreement with Italy concerning Spain. He said that he and Signor Mussolini held the same views and therefore adopted the same attitude, and he went on to explain what that attitude was. He said that the declared goal of both was to ensure the victory of Franco in Spain, that neither of them would tolerate a victory of the Republican side. He said emphatically that he and Signor Mussolini would impose a Nationalist victory in Spain. Herr Hitler made that statement yesterday afternoon. Yesterday morning the Italian Ambassador, we are told, had orders to go to the Prime Minister and declare that the Italian Government were prepared to discuss the withdrawal of volunteers. Somebody is being fooled? Who is it? I do not think the Italian promises are worth very much. It is for such a promise that we would be prepared to make a gesture which I really believe may well save Italy from collapse, which she may well be facing at the present moment. If Italy has any strength left, Germany must have made her an important promise to secure her assent to what has happened recently in Austria. What can that promise be? It seems to me that it can only be a promise from Germany to Italy to give her a free hand in the Mediterranean. If that is so, what is the use of our attempting to negotiate with Italy, for what promise can we posibly give Italy which will compensate her for that promise by Germany?
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Wandsworth (Colonel Nathan) expressed some concern at the resignation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), and I think the whole House will readily accord tribute to the many gifts with which the right hon. Gentleman is endowed. I hope I shall be permitted to say, however, that although he did not represent our views on international affairs, on this occasion he has stood for a position which we believe to be indispensable to the making and keeping of peace. To-morrow we shall move a Vote of Censure on the Government. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) criticised 145 Speeches made by other Members, and particularly a speech made by a former Liberal colleague of his, the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), because he still recognises the peace system embodied in the League Covenant. The hon. Member for East Fife is a Liberal; the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton is also a Liberal, and believes in collective security. The hon. Member for East Fife, however, criticised his former Liberal colleague's speech and said that he made no constructive proposal for making peace. The hon. Member for East Fife started running away some time ago. He first ran away from his political party, and he is now running away from the League of Nations. I fear that he will not be able to run fast enough or far enough to get to safety in that way. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. McCorquodale) in a short speech, with some of the sentiments of which I agree, said that we must agree to live together. I agree that that is necessary to the making of peace, but the hon. Member, I am sure, will agree also that we must learn to live and let live, and that that is the condition upon which peace can be made in this world.
The resignation of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington was not as much a surprise to some of us in the House as has been stated in to-day's Debate. There were rumours of disagreements with the right hon. Gentleman, and the Prime Minister's name was mentioned in that connection. We now realise that there have been disagreements and that the Prime Minister disagreed not only with the Foreign Secretary, but with the majority of his countrymen. The late Foreign Secretary was very unpopular with the controlled Press of Italy and, to a less degree, with the Press of Germany. That can be well understood. The right hon. Gentleman believes in the League. It was regarded as his greatest virtue by Members on the Government side and by Members in all parts of the House. He was, therefore, unpopular with the dictators. They demanded his dismissal. They have blamed him for their failure to get approval for their objects in Abyssinia and in Spain.
The right hon. Gentleman said to-day that he did not believe we could secure progress in European appeasement in the light of recent events if we allowed the impression to gain currency that we 146 yielded to constant pressure. The Prime Minister is anxious for peace, but he has expressed anxiety for it to-day in such terms as to convince me that he is prepared to yield to pressure. He said he was pressed, that time was urgent. He was not told "now or never," but he was told, "Let us begin at once." He felt he was being pressed hard. He wanted the Foreign Secretary to act quickly. They could not agree on the order of the steps to be taken. The ex-Foreign Secretary, as we gather, said there were many things to be done before we started talking about any agreements. Why not insist upon getting clear about Spain and probably some other legitimate complaints about Italy, about this or that breach of faith. The Foreign Secretary probably called attention to the fact that he holds a large number of I.O.Us. presented by Italy, and was not prepared to extend further credit until some payment had been made on their account. The Prime Minister wanted to talk about peace. He pressed, in his turn, the Foreign Secretary. The Foreign Secretary could not be persuaded. I imagine he was overruled, and he has gone out of office.
This is a matter of supreme importance to this House and to this country, but what must jar upon the minds of all our fellow-countrymen is the intense delight which this gives to Signor Mussolini. Signor Mussolini has won a victory quite in accord with Fascist tactics. One country is told who is to be a Minister, and we have been told who is not to be. Why has the Foreign Secretary been so strongly disliked by Italy? He has said that he wants a settlement in Spain. The Prime Minister wants a settlement in Spain. So does Signor Mussolini. Everybody is for a settlement. The important thing for this House to-night is to know what kind of settlement in Spain. The House is entitled to know the broad terms of the settlement in Spain which would satisfy the Prime Minister. When one reads the Italian version of what has gone on in Spain we are compelled to the conclusion that it is not General Franco but Il Duce who has won the victories—at Santander, at Malaga. The Italian Press told us all about it. I have copies of "Il Popolo," "Italia" and "Domenica del Corriere," three papers, published in August last, giving the names, photographs and all details of the troops engaged in the great Italian victory at Santander. How can 147 you trust, how can you negotiate with, a nation which openly avows its complicity in, its responsibility for, the attacks upon the Spanish people, its part in the destruction of hundreds of thousands of human lives in that country, while pretending under the Pact of Non-intervention to have no responsibility for what was happening?
The Italian Press have made Britain look ridiculous in relation to the Spanish question. Italy has sent thousands of tons of war material into Spain. There have been more than 100,000 Italian troops there. It is estimated that the non-Spanish troops in Spain, there with the connivance of Italy, under the direction of Italy, run to a total of nearly 200,000. It is clear that Italy means to win in Spain, in spite of the Pact of Non-intervention, by flagrant and open violation, by piracy, by wanton destruction of lives on land and sea, by terrorisation, by blackmail, and by political propaganda—all those weapons have been used. It is no use burking the truth. It is said that the first casualty in war is truth. Truth has been killed long ago in this war in Spain. Does the Prime Minister believe he can persuade the Italians to clear out of Spain in advance? Does he want them to clear out? Is he not safer in saying to them, "Do what you are pledged to do first; clean the slate; fulfil your obligations; then we can start on new agreements?" What is the use of pretending to trust to their good faith with this large living lie of 120,000 Italian soldiers staring us in the face, this living lie of crime perpetrated against Spanish people? That has got to be cleared up. The people of this country do not want pretence in this matter any longer. We have deceived ourselves for so long that we shall fail to realise the value of truth when truth can serve us most.
Signor Mussolini says that he wants to destroy Bolshevism. It is not clear what he means. In Italy, he thought it was necessary to set up a Fascist State in order to prevent Bolshevism there. Does this statement mean that he wants to establish a Fascist State everywhere? Is Spain to be a Fascist State? What does the Prime Minister say about it? With all consideration for his difficulties, I think this House should be taken into his confidence before we join with Signor 148 Mussolini or Herr Hitler anywhere in imposing their form of government on peoples who are unwilling to receive it. Is Signor Mussolini to impose Fascism on Spain with the help of the Prime Minister of Britain? The Prime Minister told us to-day that he had a considerable love for France. So have I. I think that France has deserved our sympathy. She has received our sympathy. But when we talk of our attachment to liberty-loving France is it because she is liberty-loving and democratic? Do we recognise the merits of the democratic spirit in our friends? Is the Prime Minister prepared to give some guarantee that he will give protection to France? What can he do to preserve France and French freedom if she is to be shut in on all sides by Fascist States? If Spain goes Fascist, it will be under Italian and German compulsion; Spain will not go Fascist of her own accord. Eighteen months of vicious intervention have failed to establish Fascism in Spain. I believe that the Spanish Government are supported by the overwhelming majority of the Spanish people to-day.
There is not an attempt to establish Bolshevism in Spain. This is not the first Spanish Republic. Almost exactly 65 years ago, in the month of January, a Republic was established in Spain. There was no Bolshevism then. It was not a Communist Republic. There were no Communists. It came from a demand of the Spanish people for the expression of popular liberties in a form of republican Constitution, and the British Government of that day intervened on the side of the Spanish Republic, and gave naval protection against the insurgents who were trying to destroy the Constitution. In 1873, a short-lived Republic received the support of the Government of this country. Is the House of Commons going to be persuaded in 1938 that the decades, almost centuries of popular liberty in Spain are now to be condemned and destroyed because Signor Mussolini has his own peculiar ambition, because he does not believe in this kind of thing, which represents to him Bolshevism, the evil force which he hates so much?
France also is threatened with a Fascist Italy on the south-east, with Germany on the east, and, worse than that she has three boundaries to protect against an unceasing flood of Fascist propaganda which in recent years has crossed those 149 boundaries. France has been exposed to too much risk by making an agreement on Signor Mussolini's terms. What of our own country? Does the Prime Minister contemplate settling disputes in Spain without consulting our own people? Does he propose to consult the Government of Spain? Is it now the idea that we should settle the destinies of Abyssinia and of Spain, as well as of Austria and Czechoslovakia, without consulting the people of those countries? What is the kind of new plan which the Prime Minister has envisaged and which he has referred to to-day? I hope that he is not irrevocably committed to this overt act.
§ Mr. Baxter
The hon. Gentleman was good enough to reply to an interruption. I wish he would tell the House how he would approach Signor Mussolini in the present circumstances. We should be very grateful if he would tell us how he would deal with the situation which faces the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I shall not run away from that question, but first let me ask whether the Prime Minister will tell us more about this Four-Power Pact, which seems very elusive indeed, and about the three points which he repeated to-day. On a previous occasion he said they were the three cardinal points of his plan, but he left out collective security. If there is no plan or project for restoring the League and rebuilding it again, the people of this country will be very disappointed. I doubt whether they would forgive a Prime Minister who turned his back upon the League in any circumstances, and especially in the dangerous conditions in which we find ourselves. I do not know whether the Prime Minister will tell us what kind of Europe he has in mind and which Powers have to come to agreement. Would the Prime Minister be willing to come to an agreement with the Fascist States for the suppression of that of which they disapprove? Is Signor Mussolini to determine what form of government the nations of Europe are to have?
There is a crisis in Europe and the crisis in this House is its smallest and least troublesome aspect. There is a terrible crisis in Europe and we have to find our way through it. The hon. Gentleman just asked me how I would propose to approach Signor Mussolini. There is a way. Signor Mussolini has turned 150 his back upon the League of Nations and he has been joined by others. Apparently these gentlemen are working in perfect agreement., It is the uttermost folly to assume that you can divide these people from each other. Read Herr Hitler's speech. Read Signor Mussolini's speeches. There is no difference between these two people. They recognise their common interests well enough, and I am sure it would be wasting the time of the people of this country to lead them to assume that anything can be gained by courting Mussolini to-day, giving way to Hitler to-morrow, witnessing without protest the encroachments upon the rights of nations, allowing ourselves to drift into a state of uncertainty and confusion, to a point when we shall be unable to find a way out. There is a way out and that is to refuse to deal singly with these nations who have no political morality; who do not acknowledge ordinary values in human conduct; who play the part of the bully in a public house, who shouts and thumps the table and makes his impossible demands upon his associates.
I would invite Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler in the name of the mass of humanity in Europe—who will one day pay a terrific price for the mad ambitions of these people who direct political affairs in Germany and Italy at present—to discuss this once again, not by private meetings with Signor Grandi or by sending Lord Halifax to Berlin. There is a world platform. Herr Hitler spoke yesterday to probably the largest political audience any individual has ever spoken to. We have a world platform quite as large as that of Herr Hitler. I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to indulge in political showmanship for the benefit of the world; but we have a straight story to tell the world, without fear and without shame. That story should be told.
We should invite these people once again, with full solemnity, and tell them that we are ready to make peace all round, with nations following all forms of religion, operating all forms of political administrative machinery, paying homage to all forms of political creeds, on condition that their own political creed is their own affair not to be imposed upon their inoffensive neighbours by assault or invasion. We should ask these people to come together in a spirit of non-aggression and in a spirit of peace. Those 151 who seek peace must come with clean hands. We go with our hands clean, and we invite these people who are now seeking to find political differences with us to their own advantage, to meet us with the object of making peace for the nations as a whole.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) informed the House that his party intend to-morrow to move a Vote of Censure on the Government. I deem it, therefore, my duty to speak to-morrow on that Vote of Censure; and, in those circumstances, I do not think it would be reasonable to expect me to say very much more tonight. Indeed, at this point, I have very little I should wish to add to what I have already said. I must make one or two observations upon the attitude of the party opposite as illustrated, I think, very clearly by the speech to which we have just listened. I said in my speech that I was quite sure that the attitude of the Government would be misrepresented. The whole speech of the hon. Member was a misrepresentation of the attitude of the Government. It was a travesty of the situation. He brought out of his own fancy a highly imaginative account of the terms that we were prepared to accept. He said that we were proposing to make peace on Signor Mussolini's own terms, and he contemplated that this would include the setting up of a Fascist State in Spain, and, if necessary, other Fascist States elsewhere, and he did not even exclude this country from the range of Signor Mussolini's ambitions.
It was curious to me, remembering how, in his speech, the Leader of the Opposition drew for us a picture of the weakness of the Italian position, how they had distributed their armies in different countries, how their economic condition was rapidly going downhill, and how they were on the verge of collapse; and yet this wretched country, supposed to be almost at the last extremity of exhaustion, is the one, we are told, that would impose terms upon this great country with all its wealth. It is neither reason nor common sense.
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Member asks, why did we let him go? We have done our best to persuade the late Foreign 152 Secretary to stay. It is not by our desire that he has left us. I repeat what I said before, that, in our view, there was no necessity for my right hon. Friend to leave the Government. As he himself has justly said, it is for each man to decide for himself what his duty and his conscience enjoin upon him to do.
Do not let us proceed upon the assumption that the moment we enter upon conversations we are committed to do whatever the other party to the conversations asks us to do. I really think that the hon. Member opposite must have forgotten that part of my previous observations when I was recounting my interview with Count Grandi this morning. I said then, and I said it quite deliberately, that I had given certain intimations to Count Grandi as to what were the essentials of any subsequent agreement between us, and he will remember that I said to Count Grandi that we could conclude no agreement which did not include a settlement in Spain. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears) made some observations a little while ago in which he suggested that the assurances given to us by the Italian Government were inconsistent with some words which had been used by Herr Hitler in his speech yesterday. It is not for me to say what is the explanation of the inconsistency, if inconsistency there be. But my hon. and gallant Friend drew the conclusion that this inconsistency proved that the Italian assurances given to us were not to be depended upon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That reflects the whole attitude of the party opposite, and I shall have some further remarks to make later upon that attitude.
I would point out to my hon. and gallant Friend that, assuming for the sake of argument he is correct that the assurances given to us by the Italian Government are not to be depended upon and will not be fulfilled, then there will be no agreement. Not only did I tell Count Grandi that a settlement in Spain was a necessary and essential element in any agreement that we might make, but I pointed out to him that if we made an agreement we could not ourselves go to the League and ask the League to approve that agreement if in the meantime anything had been done by the Italian Government in regard to Spain which had altered the situation in favour of General Franco, either by sending reinforcements 153 to Spain or by failing to implement the assurances and the undertakings that they had given when they accepted the British formula. No intimation could be plainer than that. I expressed my personal opinion that I believed the assurances given by the Italian Government would be fulfilled and carried out, but I made it perfectly plain that if they were not, then the chances of agreement were nil.
The position of the party opposite is, I think, perfectly plain from the discussion to-day. Indeed, if it was not plain before, it was made plain by what the hon. Member for Gower has just told us. He would not negotiate either with Germany or Italy. He would not even enter into conversations with them to see whether there were any grounds for negotiations.
§ The Prime Minister
He would stand on a platform and tell a straight story and invite them to make peace with us on terms which would be satisfactory to ourselves. I wonder whether he is ingenuous enough to think that that would be a practical step towards a solution of the difficulties.
§ The Prime Minister
He has not made peace. One has only to look at the situation in Europe as it is to-day and consider whether it has improved or whether it has got worse during the last 12 months, to see whether we have any chance of ameliorating the situation unless we ourselves are ready to take some practical step, at least, to find out whether there is any possibility of making terms—not terms which are satisfactory to us alone but terms which are mutually satisfactory to the countries which enter into negotiations with us. How unreasonable we should be if some other country were to propose that we should enter into conversations with a view to making an agreement—it might be a political agreement or a commercial agreement—if before entering into the conversations we made a demand that they should concede a large proportion of the most important things we wanted to get. That is the process suggested by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Grenfell
The right hon. Gentleman is reading into my mind things which 154 I have never uttered, and which I have never contemplated. He knows that the parallel he has offered to the House exists. He and his party refused to consider an agreement with Russia until they had complied with the British Government's conditions.
§ The Prime Minister
Did that result in an agreement? I do not know the particular occasion to which the hon. Member refers—
§ The Prime Minister
It may be reasonable to say that if a country owes money there should be some indication that it is going to pay that money. The hon. Member is making this error again, in confusing the entering into conversations with the making of an agreement. It would not be unreasonable to demand that certain things should be done before an agreement is made. We are not prepared to make peace at any price. We have essentials that must be conceded to us before we can make an agreement. The hon. Member asked what sort of a settlement I had in mind when speaking of a settlement in Spain being an essential part of an agreement. The ex-Foreign Secretary has stated more than once what we had in mind when we talked about a settlement in Spain. Provided there is no foreign interference, we desire to let the Spaniards make their own settlement. We do not consider that it is part of our duty or part of our aim to dictate to the Spaniards what settlement they shall make. The settlement we want is a settlement of Spanish questions by Spaniards free from foreign interference. The party opposite profess to be super-pacifists. They have often in the past accused the National Government of a policy tending towards war, but I wonder whether those who are constantly seeking peace are prepared to do anything to ensue it? The hon. Member opposite said that I had spoken of a four-Power pact. I never used those words.
§ The Prime Minister
The word "pact" might perhaps carry implications that I did not intend. Surely it cannot be disputed that those four Powers I named are the most powerful in Europe. After all, Russia is partly European but partly Asiatic. Surely it cannot be denied that 155 if the most powerful countries in Europe can settle their differences it would be the greatest step that could possibly be taken for the establishment of European peace. Why should the hon. Gentleman assume that when I talk of a better understanding between these four Powers I am contemplating that they should set themselves up as a sort of Soviet dictatorship which is going to determine the constitution and the destinies of all the small Powers? I have not suggested anything of the kind. I never had anything of the kind in my mind. I was suggesting better relations between them but that does not mean of course that other countries are not to have their say, or that the interests of other countries are not to be considered.
I shall say no more to-night. I hope at any rate that I have made two things clear: first of all that it is conversations 156 that we are proposing, and not at this stage agreement; and, secondly, that the agreement, if agreement there is to be at a later stage, does not mean agreement upon any terms that any other country may impose upon us. It has to be agreement that must be acceptable to us, and it must at least include those things which I have named.
§ Mr. Grenfell
The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my questions. Will he answer some of those questions before the Debate finally closes to-morrow?
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Eight Minutes before Eleven o'Clock.